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School to Develop Plan to Help Animals During Disasters 

February 5, 2010

What's New ImageFebruary 5, 2010

The International Animal Welfare Training Institute at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has received $250,000 from the California Emergency Management Agency to assist the state in providing coordinated rescue and care of animals during natural disasters.

The agency grant will formalize a framework for emergency response and protocols at county and regional levels so that volunteers and emergency responders can be authorized to include animals in rescue and care during floods, fires or other disasters.


In January 1997, rescue personnel accomplished one of California's largest evacuation efforts, removing residents from flooded areas in the northern part of the state. Unfortunately, many animals were left behind. Volunteers tried to rescue horses or livestock, but law enforcement officials turned them back due to health and safety concerns.

After two hundred dairy cows were lost in rising waters because personnel and trailers that could have saved the animals were sent away from the flooding, veterinarian John Madigan, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, spearheaded an animal rescue effort. Over more than a week, accompanied by personnel from the California Department of Fish and Game, Madigan and other volunteers rescued horses and other animals in need of food, water, shelter and medical care.

In the aftermath of the flooding, the state has tried to incorporate animal rescue into emergency response planning and protocols. Efforts to develop a system, the California Animal Response Emergency System (CARES), have stalled over the past 13 years even as the school's Veterinary Emergency Response Team continued to provide volunteer veterinary care services during several occasions when fire or flood threatened animal lives. 

Bennie Osburn, dean of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, notes that animals in disasters present a welfare issue and a concern for public health and safety. "Integrating animals into rescue efforts will protect the animals and help safeguard their owners, who may risk their lives unnecessarily if they think that their animals won't be saved," he says.    

In 2008 Madigan, who directs the International Animal Welfare Training Institute, identified a Contra Costa County emergency response program that can provide the ideal template to put CARES into action. The new agency grant supports planning that began in January. The institute's co-director, Tracey Stevens-Martin, coordinates the effort. In the coming months, she will meet with regional agencies and animal-related organizations to establish a structure and authorizations at the local, regional and statewide levels.   

"This funding," Madigan says, "takes us to the next step toward a statewide disaster response program that will minimize the suffering and loss of life of pets, horses and livestock."


California Veterinary Medical Association
California Emergency Management Agency
California Dept of Food and Agriculture
Federal Emergency Management Agency


John Madigan, director, International Animal Welfare Training Institute, Veterinary Emergency Response Team, 530-752-6513,

Tracey Stevens-Martin, deputy director, International Animal Welfare Training Institute,