The University of Arizona

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Improving Lives, Communities and the Economy

Extension Veterinarian talks Disaster Preparedness and Pets

Photo Courtesy:  Peder Cuneo

Numbers on damage after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are still coming in.

The Texas Department of Public Safety estimates close to 40,000 homes damaged and 7,000 destroyed by floodwaters leaving thousands of people in shelters, in Texas alone.

In Florida, An estimated 25% of the houses on the chain of islands have been destroyed, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and another 65% suffered major damage.

And thousands more of the smallest victims of these recent natural disasters –pets- have been left homeless.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Cooperative Extension veterinarian Dr. Peder Cuneo has some first-hand knowledge of hurricanes and pets:  he was on the ground volunteering 12 years ago after Hurricane Katrina.  He’s been keeping an eye on the events in Texas and Florida after the hurricanes.

He says from what he’s seen, emergency relief teams are doing very well to assist, and deal with animals affected.

 “The major change is that for Katrina animals were NOT allowed into shelters, in fact the Red Cross would not allow me to transport pet food to outlying areas in their vans.  Because of Katrina animals have become part of the national response plan,” says Cuneo.

Cuneo worked in an animal shelter near Belle Chasse, Louisiana, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and was then sent to evacuate the animal shelter in nearby St. Bernard, in anticipation of the next storm, Rita.

Cuneo says he also delivered food, water and cleaning supplies to shelters, but was surrounded by destruction.

“Just seeing unbelievable devastation everywhere you looked, after a few days it just became the new normal.  When we evacuated St. Bernard the streets had many dead dogs because they drank contaminated flood water,” says Cuneo.

Cuneo says he is not heading out of state to assist in the aftermath of the other hurricanes… but that the American Veterinary Medical Association has several dedicated disaster response teams.

As a veterinarian with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension - the mission being to take University of Arizona expertise to bear on practical problems - Cuneo administers the ALIRT program.                             

ALIRT is a communication and education partnership between Cooperative Extension, the State Veterinarian, and even livestock owners and producers, when there are unexplained livestock deaths. Cuneo works with the Arizona Department of Agriculture and other specialists to track down the problem, then get the word out about the issue.

With his expertise in animal health, Cuneo keeps an eye on issues involving animals.

He just finished a 2-year-term as a scientific specialist for the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Cuneo says plans are in place locally to keep pets safe in case of a disaster.

“Pima County has the Pima County Animal Disaster Response Team, that works with Pima County to provide for companion animals in the event of an evacuation in Pima County."

He and other experts advise having a few things ready or within easy reach for your pets, in case of disasters or emergencies.  Make sure you have:

  • Transport equipment, including pet crates, cages for pocket pets/reptiles, trailers for horses and other large animals
  • Food and some drinking water for your animals, packed and ready to go
  • A supply of medications and other special needs ready to go

Click here, to read the full story of Dr. Cuneo’s days in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. 

Click here to learn more about the ALIRT program.