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Pet Protection

posted January 29th, 2015 by
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Pet Protection

Pet Protection

 

G.I. Wishes, a local nonprofit, coordinates disaster response plan for area animals.

 

by Megan Miers

 

In the aftermath of natural disasters, such as the devastating tornadoes that hit Moore and El Reno in May 2013, human beings weren’t the only ones who found themselves without a home. Often in situations such as these, pets can become lost or separated from their families, or are left to fend for themselves during a storm because owners are unable to evacuate them safely or bring them to a community shelter.

 

One Tulsa organization is working to change that. G.I.Wishes, a nonprofit group that matches military veterans with adoptable pets, is in the process of building a disaster response plan and team that will assist in evacuating, seeking veterinary treatment and finding temporary housing for pets in the event of a storm or other disaster.

“In Tulsa, we don’t have any provisions for animal rescue in the event of a disaster,” says J.R. Becker, operations director for GI Wishes. Because of public health concerns, other disaster-relief organizations have shied away from animal rescue services, but the G.I. Wishes plan aims to fill that void.

G.I. Wishes’ in-development disaster response plan, which has the backing of federal, state and local agencies, as well as the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture and several Tulsa-area rescue groups and veterinary clinics, is expected to be fully operational by January 2015.

They will operate in conjunction with the Tulsa Health Department and under the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps, a group of specially trained volunteers and health professionals. First responders with the G.I. Wishes disaster team do not self-deploy, Becker says. Instead, they wait to be notified after a disaster declaration is made by the mayor or governor’s office to ensure a coordinated and efficient response.

The disaster response team will serve animals primarily in Tulsa County but may extend into other nearby areas such as Rogers County should the need arise, Becker says. Dogs and cats will be the main focus of G.I. Wishes’ disaster response plan—the organization does not currently have the capacity to aid larger animals such as horses. The network of first responders should be able to handle between 300 and 500 animals in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

The disaster response plan is just part of G.I. Wishes’ larger mission, which is to find loving homes for adoptable pets by matching them with military veterans. Since its inception in 2011, G.I. Wishes has adopted out about 30 pets, Becker says.

Public events, social media, information provided by area Veterans’ Affairs centers and veterans’ counselors have all helped spread the word about G.I. Wishes and its mission, according to Becker. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, he says.

Veterans seeking a companion animal through G.I. Wishes start by calling the organization and discussing what type of dog or cat they are looking for. Becker and other volunteers will then search area rescue groups for available pets that fit those descriptions.

Prospective owners then fill out an application and are asked to provide two personal references, as well as information for their family veterinarian. Factors such as the age and energy level of both the pet and the prospective owner are taken into consideration in order to ensure a good match.

If the veteran already has another pet at home, then G.I. Wishes will have him or her bring the pet to meet the new one at a neutral location to determine how well the animals get along with each other.

G.I. Wishes also has a separate application for veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. In those instances, G.I. Wishes will contact the veteran’s therapist and physician to help determine whether or not he or she is ready to take on the responsibility of a pet.

Becker, a Vietnam veteran, longtime animal rescue volunteer and proud owner of three Shelties and two cats, says pets adopted out through G.I. Wishes have brought about many positive changes in their new owners, especially those who are dealing with depression or conditions such as PTSD.

“The change in these veterans is a complete 180—they’ve gotten out of their depression, and it’s like a self-reward,” he says. “Veterans from my generation were told to suck it up and deal with it, but we’ll never allow that to happen to the younger guys.”

He says pets often are the first to notice when their owners are upset or worried and can help calm them just by being there.

“Animals are soothing, and they can pick up on stress—they will nudge you or put a paw on you to let you know everything’s OK,” he says.

Once a pet has been adopted through G.I. Wishes, the organization will help with coverage of that pet’s basic veterinary care for the first year. G.I. Wishes also helps find foster homes for pets of veterans who are deployed or hospitalized and regularly updates owners until they are able to return home to their four-legged friends.

In cases in which a veteran passes away or is no longer able to care for the pet due to other circumstances, G.I. Wishes will take the pet back and foster it until a new family is found.

“We will keep that pet with us until it’s adopted out,” Becker says. “We are a no-kill organization.”

Disaster Safety Tips for Pets

Planning ahead will help you keep your pet safe in the event of a disaster. To ensure your pet’s safety, follow these tips from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation and the Humane Society of the United States:

Make sure your pet is equipped with proper identification tags. Ask your pet’s vet about implanting a microchip for identification purposes.

Have a leash, collar and pet carrier ready for each pet. Familiarize your pet with evacuation procedures and pet carriers. Carriers should have room enough for two small bowls, a litter pan (cats) and for the pet to stand and turn around.

Label each carrier with your identification and contact information.

Assemble an animal evacuation kit containing essentials such as several days’ worth of dry and canned food; bottled water; medications; first aid supplies; proof of ownership; emergency contact numbers; and copies of your pet’s veterinary records.

In case you are away when a disaster occurs, place stickers on entrances to your home or property to notify neighbors and rescue personnel that animals are on your property and where to find evacuation supplies.

To facilitate evacuation of your pets, provide a list near your evacuation supplies of the number, type and location of your animals, including their favorite hiding spots.

Have leashes and muzzles where rescue personnel can easily access them. Keep in mind pets can become unpredictable when frightened.

Designate a willing neighbor or nearby friend to tend to your animals in the event a disaster occurs when you are not home. This person should have a key to your home and be familiar with your pets, as well as know where evacuation supplies are kept.

How You Can Help

For more information on G.I. Wishes’ disaster response plan, how to adopt an animal through G.I. Wishes or how to donate or volunteer, visit www.GIWishes.org, call (918) 477-7606 or send an e-mail to [email protected] More information also can be found on G.I. Wishes’ Facebook page.