I’ve been a bad blogger. While I had every intention to blog every Friday, the past 6 weeks have been a complete BLUR for me! The great news is that Missing Pet Partnership has had new doors literally FLY open for us. We went from having just a few dedicated volunteers and little hope for immediate growth (or funding) to suddenly having 20 new volunteers, a brand new direction for our training program, weekly meetings, weekly training sessions, and new plans to offer more MAR training later this year. Here’s what happened:
In mid December, I was contacted by the Emergency Manger for the City of Federal Way (WA). He oversees a group of volunteers for a program called CERT which stands for “Community Emergency Response Team.” CERT is a national program approved by FEMA that is designed to train citizen’s how to prepare for and react to a disaster. Although CERT volunteers are not professional rescuers, they are trained in how to assist their families and neighbors by offering basic first aid, fire safety, light search-and-rescue, and disaster psychology.
During a catastrophic disaster, local resources are going to be overwhelmed and most likely crippled. It typically takes 3 to 5 days before outside professional rescuers will start to arrive and be deployed in a large disaster zone (think Haiti quake during the first three days). CERT is designed to train every day civilians in how to save lives and protect property (turn off utilities, minor first aid, extinguish small fires, etc.) in their immediate area. Most communities have CERT training available through the local city or county Emergency Management. If you find that the CERT program is available in your community I strongly recommend that you take this course.
So, in early January I met with the emergency manager because he thought CERT volunteers might be able help with MAR work. He was right. During our meeting, here’s what we discovered:
- On any given lost pet search, MPP usually works with MAR teams using 3 to 6 volunteers.
- CERT teams are usually the same size and include one team leader.
- MAR searches involve helping distraught pet owners who are in crisis because their pet is lost.
- In a disaster, CERT teams deal with distraught people but CERT volunteers are seldom exposed to people in crisis and lack exposure to crisis situations.
- MAR searches involve solving problems under stress using different skills, various tools, pressures from panicked people, and changing plans based on evolving information and a changing environment.
- CERT teams need experience in solving problems under stressful and ever changing situations, but they seldom have the opportunity to test these skills in real-life crisis situations.
- By developing a CERT MAR team, volunteers could help save taxpayer money by recovering lost dogs and cats (preventing their entry into the local animal shelter system), practice their skills, help distraught families, and save animals lives.
We quickly realized that the concept of CERT MAR could be patterned after CERT. While professional animal rescuers will ultimately arrive at a disaster scene, CERT MAR volunteers could be used initially (during the first few days of a disaster) to capture loose, panicked dogs, humanely trap hiding cats, and help evacuate distraught families and direct them to animal sheltering locations. CERT MAR volunteers, who would all be trained in CERT, would also render first aid, light search-and-rescue, and fire suppression like other CERT members.
Once we recognized that the idea of a CERT MAR team was a great idea, we put the wheels in motion. We held an informational meeting in Federal Way in mid Janaury to see if anyone was interested in becoming involved in a CERT MAR team. They were. Forty people showed up so we formed a CERT MAR committee, enrolled in the CERT course (which ten of our volunteers are currently taking), and recruited 3 new search dogs for our program. Although we are still in the early planning stages, we already have two other cities in our area that are interested in knowing more about CERT MAR. Our priority will be to develop this program locally first before we start trying to train other CERT teams.
And speaking of training, we were able to put our skills to work this afternoon. A call came into Missing Pet Partnership that Walter, a black, 150 pound Newfoundland was lost in Federal Way. Within one hour of receiving the request for help Missing Pet Partnership had established a staging area, assigned an Incident Commander, had one trailing dog (Lucy the Yellow Lab), and four volunteers (myself included) on scene. We managed to tag two of our cars, prepare four florescent LOST GIANT BLACK SHAGGY DOG posters, and we were heading out to start an intersection alert when we learned that Walter had been found. He was found schmoozing with a new family just three blocks from his home. The finder had posted a FOUND DOG sign in her neighborhood and Walter’s owner saw it before she arrived at our staging area.
We had gathered together in our staging area to celebrate the news that Walter was home and were working on disassembling our posters when a mother and daughter drove up with a found Golden Retriever. MPP volunteer Brian Newsham scanned the Golden and found he had a microchip. Within five minutes and a few phone calls, we knew the dog’s name and the microchip company had contacted his owner. It was a great opportunity to activate three of our new volunteers and for them to participate in the recovery of two different missing dogs within the span of an hour.
Recovering lost pets during non-disaster times and during the first critical days of a catastrophic disaster makes so much sense. As the founder of Missing Pet Partnership, I have spent the past thirteen years trying to convince animal welfare and animal sheltering industry professionals that lost pet search-and-rescue services were needed in all communities. That most “strays” are lost pets and by helping people find their lost pets, we can reduce shelter euthanasia rates. Sadly, the concept just never really took off.
I’m delighted to see that new doors appear to be opening for the concept of MAR within the context of disaster response work. I’ve always believed that losing a pet was a mini disaster in the life of a family who has lost a pet they deeply love. Volunteers trained in CERT MAR will be able to assist distraught pet owners, mitigate traffic accidents by recovering loose strays, facilitate the evacuation of people and their pets, mitigate the chances that hard-to-catch stray dogs and cats will turn “feral” and/or end up in animal shelters, and best of all, will save animals lives.
Can you say “Hoorah”?