A bill being considered by the California Legislature would direct the state Office of Emergency Services to incorporate animal evacuations into its operational plans.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Martin Poldervaart knows how water can wreak havoc. When a levee burst two miles from his Yuba City dairy farm in 1997, 200 of his cows -- more than half of his herd -- drowned.
"It was really sad to see what was left over," Poldervaart said.
Now, a bill being considered by the California Legislature would direct the state Office of Emergency Services to incorporate animal evacuations into its operational plans.
Advocates of the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, say it will force first responders to take animals into account when evacuating areas threatened by flood waters, earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters.
Critics say such a plan is a waste of taxpayer money and emergency personnel should focus solely on saving human lives. The Assembly has approved it 76-1 and it now awaits Senate consideration.
"Trying to move a 1,600 pound animal that is frightened is a difficult task," said Gary Conover, director of governmental relations for Western United Dairymen. "If you need to move 200 head of cattle, you can't do it yourself. You need to know who you can call and when you can get back on your property."
After the El Nino floods of 1997, the state Department of Food and Agriculture developed contingency plans to rescue cattle, house displaced animals on county fairgrounds and reunite pets with their owners through a program known as CARES -- the California Animal Response in Emergency System.
The program has been implemented by the state when needed. In the spring, the department sent inspectors to the San Joaquin Valley to ensure the health and safety of cattle evacuated from farms near rivers that threatened to overflow their banks.
But the state's lead disaster agency, the Office of Emergency Services, has not formally adopted the program into its emergency planning, and some fear that could threaten federal emergency funding to the state.
In response to Hurricane Katrina, Congress last month approved a bill that would require local and state preparedness offices to draw up evacuation plans for animals. The bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., calls for cutting federal emergency grants to states that fail to incorporate animals in their operational preparedness planning.
"The sight of evacuees having to choose between being rescued or remaining with their pets, perhaps even having to leave behind their service animals they rely on every day, was just heartbreaking," Lantos said last month on the House floor.
Republican Assemblyman Ray Haynes, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the California legislation, said the Legislature should not spend limited taxpayer money on contingency plans for animals when human lives should be the top priority.
"I just think its a foolish thing to engage in," he said. "We have a hard enough time trying to save all the people that are threatened."
Haynes said farmers and livestock owners take out insurance policies covering the value of their herds if there is a disaster. The responsibility of evacuating their animals should fall on them, not taxpayers, he said.
Source: Associated Press