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October 30, 2012

Using Social Media to Help #SandyPets

I wrote yesterday about the work of The HSUS's disaster team and state directors to coordinate with emergency officials and ready our equipment and resources to deploy in the wake of the storm. But there’s so much more to a disaster response than just the professional corps of disaster planners and responders. Rank-and-file citizens have to make the right choices to protect themselves and their animals, and that’s why our communications staff have also been working nonstop to get out crucial information about pet preparedness through social media, our website, and press releases.

Dog photo from Twitter during Hurricane Sandy
Photo credit: Lauren Sands
A dog safe with her owner during Hurricane Sandy.

Social media has become especially useful during disasters to distribute information quickly and respond to specific questions from animal lovers. We've been connecting pet owners with the information and resources they need to keep their animals safe. 

Our staff were continuously monitoring storm-related tweets and Facebook posts over the weekend. On Saturday, our staff noticed a tweet about an agency in Connecticut that advised residents to leave their pets at home on the second floor if evacuating--when in fact The HSUS and most agencies strongly discourage leaving your pets behind (since home damage or mandatory evacuation orders can lead to a terrible outcome for your animals). Our state director and disaster team spoke with officials, reminding them to retool the message about evacuating with pets. And they did.

In many instances, communities are doing the right thing, and public officials are correctly advising people on how to take care of their pets in a time of crisis. This is a dramatic shift in public attitudes and the emphasis on the human-animal bond from just a few years ago, and a marker that our movement has made great strides by raising public awareness and collaborating with planning agencies and other stakeholders. For example, our staff in New York City serve on the local animal planning task force and have been working with coalition partners and municipal agencies for years to prepare for an event just like Sandy. 

After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, we worked to pass the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in Congress and to pass laws in 16 states on pets in disasters, and those efforts have paid off.

Over the last few days, we've used Twitter and contacts with local animal control agencies to help many people find pet-friendly shelters in their areas, as well as providing information about how to help feral cats and other non-companion animals during the storm. We followed up with local authorities about reports of dogs left outside, and we're helping to publicize requests from local shelters in need of supplies.

Each of these questions we answer about pet-friendly shelters, or each phone call we make to alert authorities about an animal in need, adds up and can mean a lot to someone. One woman in New York contacted us to say she needed to evacuate with her dog, but she didn't have a car, and the subways were slated to close early. We let her know that taxis and buses were required to accept pets during the storm and what time public transportation would be closing. She later sent us a photo of her dog cuddled up safely from the storm. 

Communications is vital on the front end of a natural event, and during. We’ll continue to emphasize this work, as well as have our first responders ready to help whenever and wherever animals and people are in crisis. Follow us on Twitter (@HumaneSociety) for up-to-the-minute information on pet-friendly shelters, organizations in need of assistance, and other disaster-related resources. You can also donate $10 to our Disaster Relief Fund by texting ANIMALS to 20222 (message and data rates apply).

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