If disaster strikes Blanco County -- or if we need to host evacuees from elsewhere -- we now will have a place to house their household pets, too.
"We know many people would rather stay at home even under life-threatening conditions, rather than leave their pets behind when they evacuate to safety," said Blanco County American Red Cross chair Martha Mason. "Literally, they would risk death rather than leave their four-legged family members."
But the Red Cross cannot let pets in shelters set up for human evacuees. If we want to house people, Mason said, we have to take care of their pets, too. By summer, we'll be able to do exactly that.
"We're still working out the details of how we'll do it," said Todd Swift, Blanco County Agri-Life Extension Agent.
"In some cases we'll ask for volunteers to host a "foster pet" on their own property. This is particularly good for animals that would become over-anxious in a crowded setting. Fostering provides a calmer, more home-like environment.
"In other cases, we may need to house large numbers of pets in a single place, close to the shelters where their owners will be, to make it easier for them to feed, walk and care for their animals."
Different species have different needs, too, noted veterinarian Paul Axtell.
"Cats are perfectly happy to curl up in a carrier or cage and nap. Dog are happier in a foster setting where they can run, but they tolerate cages for a while. Horses and cattle, however, don't do cages well at all."
To make housing pets easier, Swift said he had permission to use both the buildings at the county fair grounds in Johnson City and at Yett Park in Blanco. If something happens in Blanco, evacuees and their pets can be housed in johnson City; if it happens in Johnson City, there's safe space for both in Blanco.
The first organizing meeting was held Saturday at the First United Methodist Church in Johnson City. It was co-hosted by the Blanco County Disaster Response Group and the county's Animal Issues Committee (AIC). They agreed the AIC should manage the shelter program, with Swift as the primary contact.
The AIC is part of the county disaster response plan, and one of its tasks is to prepare an animal disaster shelter like this one. It also plans care for evacuated large animals, rounding up disaster-scattered livestock, and disposition of dead animals.
"It's too early in our planning to know how -- or even whether -- we'll take on some of those other tasks," Swift explained. "It's hard enough to handle a dozen cats and dogs. We're a long way from caring for a couple hundred cattle. We'll take it a step at a time."
One early step is drawing up the paperwork, including the contracts under which the shelter will accept a pet. The Blanco County Cat Coalition's Dora Brown, a lawyer, agreed to generate that paperwork.
The program also will seek alliances with the schools in the county's two districts. Students in the 4-H and FFA programs already have the knowledge of animals and the energy to be a major help when the shelters open.
Swift added that more volunteers for all jobs and all levels are needed as the program is planned and launched. One of the next steps will be training for the volunteers.
To volunteer or learn about the disaster pet shelter, contact his office at 830-868-7167.