By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- When disaster strikes, communities across the state have plans to evacuate and shelter residents. But what happens to their pets?
The Senate on Thursday will consider legislation requiring cities and towns to account for family pets and service dogs in their emergency planning, devising a strategy to shelter pets during an emergency.
Sen. Karen Spilka, who filed the legislation, said that one of the most critical issues during a natural disaster or emergency can be making sure citizens comply with evacuation orders, and concerns over leaving pets behind can be a deterrent.
During Hurricane Katrina, Spilka said, as many as 600,000 animals were abandoned or left to fend for themselves as their owners evacuated from flood zones and sought shelter. As many as 250,000 of those animals died in the weeks and months following the disaster.
Spilka's bill would give communities a year to craft emergency pet plans. Under federal law, states receiving homeland security preparedness funding already account for pets in their state-level disaster plans.
"State legislation is needed so that local civil defense agencies include provisions for animals, otherwise this important public safety issue will remain a barrier," Spilka's office explained in a bill summary.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended the bill on Wednesday with an amendment, and it was placed on the calendar for Thursday's session.
Thirteen states have enacted similar legislation, including Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey. This is the first time such a bill has been filed in Massachusetts.