February 12, 2020

Chairs DeFazio, Titus Statements from Hearing on Welfare of Animals During Disasters

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Dina Titus (D-NV) during today’s hearing titled: “Animals in Disasters.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you Chair Titus, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

I’m very interested in this issue because animals are often overlooked when we think about emergency management and preparedness.

I have a dog, Mandy, at home in Oregon and anyone who visits my personal office or the Committee knows that we have pet friendly offices.

Americans consider their pets to be part of their family. So, it’s no wonder that such a large percentage of individuals who failed to evacuate during past disasters did so because they didn’t want to leave their pets behind. During disasters, the well-being of Americans and their animals are inextricably linked.

However, this hearing is not just about pets. Service animals and livestock have entirely different evacuation, sheltering, and feeding needs when a disaster occurs.

Failure to properly account for farm animals during an emergency can have severe consequences, including economic losses and food insecurity for entire communities.

Service animals generally have broad protections for sheltering and transportation in emergency situations. However, search and rescue canines are not guaranteed the same protections under Federal law.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this committee held several hearings to consider legislative proposals that would address the shortcomings in our national emergency preparedness framework. One of the pieces of legislation that came out of those hearings was the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act.

This bipartisan legislation was among the first to consider the wellbeing of animals during a disaster by requiring FEMA to ensure that State and local emergency preparedness plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.

It’s time we take another look at the gaps in emergency preparedness with respect to animals. For example, there is currently no federal requirement that facilities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) have a plan to protect animals in their care during emergency situations.

The PREPARED Act, introduced by Chair Titus, would require that AWA licensed facilities create, implement, and file contingency plans with the Department of Agriculture. Although the bill was not referred to this Committee, it highlights issues that are squarely within our jurisdiction.

I support the Chair’s legislation and hope we can use what we learn today as the basis for more protections for animals in the future.

Thank you. I look forward to hearing testimony from our witnesses. I yield back.

Chair Titus:

This morning we are discussing an issue of great importance when it comes to emergency preparedness and response and that is animal welfare in disasters.

85 million families in the United States have at least one pet.

That’s nearly 67% of all households in this country.

These animals are members of our families, and their safety has a major impact on how people prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

The issue of caring for animals in emergencies is not a new concern.

In fact, we can look to many of the world’s oldest cultures and religions for the first evidence of emergency planning for animals in disasters.

In Genesis, we find the story of Noah and the Great Flood.

In it, God directs Noah to gather two of each animal on the Ark to save them from the impending flood.

Whether it is a family cat, a service animal, the cattle on your ranch, or a working dog alongside a first responder, when we take care of animals during a disaster, it makes it easier for people to be willing to evacuate and then later to begin the process of recovery.

Today we will explore existing authorities in the Stafford Act that help guide FEMA’s work in this space and the assistance it provides to states and localities.

We’ll examine gaps in federal emergency management policy that have led to family separation from their pets and the deaths of tens of thousands of animals.

We will also hear from groups providing services outside of the Stafford framework, and hear about opportunities where the federal government could promote animal welfare and help alleviate these separations and losses.  

I’ll note that in the recently passed Disaster Recovery and Reform Act, also known as DRRA, we included language to establish veterinary response teams utilizing the expertise of our nation’s unsurpassed higher-ed veterinary programs.

This provision – Section 1218 – is the next step in a progression of public policy developed in response to animal-related challenges dating back to the early 1990s and Hurricane Andrew.

They have unfortunately continued to be an issue in small- and large-scale events such as Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Florence, Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Michael; Superstorm Sandy; and the recent California wildfires.

Much to my dismay, FEMA has so far chosen to ignore this important provision.

During the last five years alone, our nation has experienced nearly 500 Presidentially-declared disaster events, including significant hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and earthquakes.

In each of these instances, we have repeatedly seen challenges that come with a federal response to disasters, when tens of thousands of animals were rescued, evacuated, and – hopefully – reunited with their owners.

Prussian-German philosopher Imannuel Kant famously said, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

Today’s hearing provides the Subcommittee with an opportunity to examine whether our Federal emergency management policies measure up to our nation’s affection for our pets and our flocks.

I want to thank our witnesses for being here today and look forward to today’s discussion.

Chair Titus’s remarks as delivered can be found here.