Homeless in the Hurricane: Helping the Animals Affected By Irma

“I’ve realized in Athens alone, the number one problem is housing. A lot of housing doesn’t allow pets for residents who currently live here.”

Jedd Kaylor, the Director of the Athens Humane Society, realized the impending problem on his hands after receiving several calls about Hurricane Irma and pets without a place to go.

Survey from Athens Humane Society Facebook page

The Athens Humane Society sent out a link on Facebook asking people to fill out the survey if they were willing to house animals escaping from Hurricane Irma and what they could specifically help with.

This was more helpful than they knew.

Many Irma evacuees fled with their pets, some believing that shelters and hotels had to allow access for animal owners in states of emergency. However, this is not true.

The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 was passed a little over 11 years ago, amending the previous Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

This act requires the director of the Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) to ensure that there are plans in place for the aid of pet and service animal owners during emergencies, but does not place any requirements on shelters and hotels to open their doors for evacuees with animals.

Many Irma evacuees who fled to Athens to escape the storm experienced difficulties when trying to find a hotel that would take them and their pets.

Above is an interactive map of Athens hotels. Green markers indicate pet-friendly locations, and red markers indicate places that do not allow pets.

Kelly Wagner, a UGA freshman from Naples, Florida, experienced this firsthand when trying to find shelter for her mother and her dog.

While her mother was evacuating from Florida, the traffic was so bad that she had to stay the night in a hotel before she even got out of the state. Wagner said she had to call six hotels for her mother before finding one that would allow dogs.

The problem persisted when her mother got to Athens, and she was only able to stay two nights in a pet-friendly hotel because many hotels in the area were all booked. Even though she was able to find a hotel that would allow her dog, Wagner’s mother had to pay a pet fee of $50 a night.

“Considering the hotel was only about $110 [a night] without a dog, it was kind of ridiculous,” Wagner said.

Hotels aren’t the only places restricting pet access.

Mark Martin, owner of Pet Supply Plus and an avid disaster relief volunteer, brought to attention that groups like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army set up shelters that are denying access to people who have animals.

He is aiming to help this situation in any way that he can.

“I’m working with some manufacturers to hopefully make some products a bit cheaper. So when the Red Cross and Salvation Army goes to set up a shelter for humans, alongside that they set up a shelter for their pets. Not for strays, but for people’s pets.”

Martin aims to have accomplished this by this time next year, but he expressed worry when pointing out that this is only the beginning of hurricane season.

Story by Casey Williams, Emily Williams, Casie Wilson and Caroline Windham

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