Fire season — for those of us who call Southern California home, this is an all too well-known time of year when blue skies turn amber, and we again remember that we were supposed to prepare a “go bag” after the prior year’s fire season (more on this later).

This year, we are happy to report that the County of Orange and OC Animal Care Services ( has expanded its ability to respond to public emergencies like those experienced during fire season.  In 2019, the Animal Health Foundation donated $20,000 towards the acquisition of two mobile AKC Pet Disaster Relief trailers for OC Animal Care Services.  This donation, along with a $2,000 sponsorship from Shoreline Dog Fanciers Association of Orange County ( and a donation of $2,000 from Noble Friends Foundation for OC Animal Care (, ensured that OC Animal Care Services was able to procure these much needed emergency resources.  The trailers are stocked with critical supplies that are used to create safe temporary shelter for pets displaced by natural and other disasters.

Dr. Jennifer Hawkins, Chief Veterinarian at OC Animal Care Services, knows well the challenges of providing refuge and care for animals while striving to continue and foster the human-animal bond in the midst of an emergency.  In an interview conducted with Dr. Hawkins, she noted that one of the primary challenges associated with community evacuations is assuring people with pets and service animals that they will not be separated upon arrival at an evacuation site.  Rather than risk separation or face the possibility of being denied entry, people who have pets may refuse evacuation orders and elect to stay in harm’s way as they are unwilling to leave their animals behind (

In response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 (PETS Act) was signed into federal law on October 6, 2006.  The PETS Act requires that State and local emergency preparedness plans “address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency;” the PETS Act is further reinforced by measures in the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) and the National Response Framework (NRF) (  Consistent with this legislation, OC Animal Care Services and its response to natural disasters and other emergencies is well-integrated into the County of Orange’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC); however, as Dr. Hawkins advised, the EOC is only activated if two or more cities in the County are involved.

Importantly, deployment of the AKC Pet Disaster Relief trailers is not dependent wholly on activation of the EOC.  Dr. Hawkins envisions that the trailers will also serve to extend the services provided by OC Animal Care Services, such as in cases of animal hoarding.  For example, in May 2019, over 140 dogs seized from a home in Orange, CA required temporary care and management by OC Animal Care Services.  Though able to accommodate the large influx of animals, future similar cases may tax the existing infrastructure of OC Animal Care Services whose shelter in Tustin, CA can typically accommodate 200 dogs and 200 cats.

Each AKC Pet Disaster Relief trailer contains critical reusable and disposable supplies capable of supporting up to 65 small domestic animals (e.g., cats, dogs, rabbits) for 72 hours.  The trailers are stocked with items necessary to house animals (crates, carriers, and bowls), provide and confirm identification (collars, microchips, and a microchip scanner), cleaning, and maintenance supplies.  In addition, each trailer has lighting and is wired for electricity that may be run off either a generator or 110v power supply (  Dr. Hawkins envisions that trailers will be deployed adjacent to evacuation shelters put in place by the American Red Cross (and similar agencies) so that families may remain in close proximity to their pets.

Dr. Hawkins noted the critical importance of keeping pets and service animals together with their families in times of disaster commenting that “animals do better when they are in a home setting with their humans.”  Though the AKC Pet Disaster Relief trailers do not come stocked with all of the comforts of home, they will function to sustain and uphold one of the tenants central to both the Animal Health Foundation and OC Animal Care Services — that of the mutually beneficial human-animal bond.

To remain sustainable, each trailer will require restocking of its disposable supplies.  Donations, such as those received from private individuals and the California Veterinary Medical Foundation will be needed to replenish supplies after each deployment.  Persons interested in providing donations to OC Animal Care Services may do so by going to:

Now, a little more about that “go bag” that we all keep meaning to prepare…

Dr. Hawkins’ was adamant about the importance of being prepared with plans that are proactive and not reactive.  She noted that “preparedness can mitigate the effects of “messy” disasters and reduce the “noise” of its response.”  Veterinary professionals, such as those represented by the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, are poised perfectly to serve as disaster preparedness planners and educators for their community.  To that end, Dr. Hawkins’ noted, “go bags” for pets and service animals should contain, at a minimum, three days of food and medication, comfort items, and copies of relevant veterinary records (e.g., prescriptions, vaccination records).  Owners also need to have a prepared evacuation plan in place.  Key resources to help your clients (and you) be prepared in advance for the next emergency or natural disaster include:

The Animal Health Foundation is a 501(c)3 corporation was launched in 1967 by a generous pledge from the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.  Its mission remains that of helping personal pets and wildlife in times of need through providing financial assistance to pets and their owners affected by economically challenging times and supporting worthy causes affecting wildlife, animal education, and relief during disaster efforts.


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