Editor's Note: Ria de Grassi is the director of livestock, animal health and welfare for the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Everyone is busy. And when you're busy, planning for an emergency tends to drop down—or off—one's priority to-do list. Emergencies typically, and thankfully, tend to be rare occurrences. But when a rare event becomes real, we're all glad that someone made the time to plan and train for it.
Animal emergency preparedness is something everyone—including farmers—should exercise. In California, a broad, coordinated effort is underway to address emergencies affecting all animals, including not just dogs and cats, but also livestock, poultry and farmed fish. Planning includes emergencies such as fires, floods, earthquakes, heat waves, loss of power, a prolonged freeze and more.
To incorporate animals into overall disaster planning and relief efforts, California created the California Animal Response Emergency System. The development of CARES began more than 10 years ago; it is a huge undertaking intended to guide official operational planning for animal emergencies in communities across our state.
Geographically diverse California has more than 38 million people plus an animal population also in the millions. American Veterinary Medical Association polls in 2012 revealed that nearly 6.7 million dogs and 7.1 million cats call California home. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, more than 5.3 million cattle (beef and dairy), 800,000 sheep, goats and hogs, and millions of poultry reside here, too. Add to that an estimated 700,000 horses or more, and we can see that disaster planning is more than a challenge—it's an imperative.
During a disaster, people often insist on remaining with their animals rather than evacuating, which, although noble, can be problematic with potentially tragic consequences for animals and humans alike. If agencies have plans in place to care for animals during disasters—and communicate those plans efficiently during an emergency—people, animals and first responders will all benefit.
State law requires the Governor's Office of Emergency Services to adopt and incorporate the CARES program, developed under the oversight of CDFA, into the standardized emergency management system. This is a smart strategy because it includes planning and mitigation, search and rescue, evacuation, transport, sheltering, veterinary care and recovery, such as reuniting animals with owners. Whether an emergency is confined to a single farm or affects an entire region, effective planning makes response and recovery efforts less distressing and less costly, too. CARES provides resources for the public, businesses, shelters and emergency officials in their local planning efforts for animals in disaster situations.