On March 31, nearly 2,500 animal welfare experts and other enthusiasts from around the world will converge in New Orleans for our 24th HSUS Animal Care Expo, the world’s largest educational conference and trade show for animal shelter and rescue professionals and advocates. This Animal Care Expo promises to be our biggest ever, and its location has a special significance, since it was in the eye of the storm and also the focus of the largest animal-rescue operation in American history during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, nearly 10 years ago.
Hurricane Katrina was a transformative moment for disaster planning for animals. When Michael Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was asked about stranded pets during Katrina and began his response with the words, “They are not our concern,” he showed a profound lack of understanding for the human-animal bond. FEMA and other first responders and other disaster planners had failed to realize that so many people wouldn’t leave because they wouldn’t abandon their best friends at a time of crisis. Those who did follow the order to evacuate and weren’t able to take their animals were devastated and desperate to get back to them. One man refused to be rescued from his floating raft if he couldn’t take his dog, because his dog was all he had left. There were many such stories; one National Guard officer estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the people who refused to leave flood-afflicted areas did so because of their pets. As the drama played out on the national stage, it was clear that you could not have a successful human relief effort if it did not include animals.
In the years since Katrina, we’ve helped pass 16 new state laws and the federal Pet Evacuation Standards and Transportation (PETS) Act to include animals in disaster plans—laws that helped hugely in our response to Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York in 2012. But there is still so much work to do to prepare communities, shelters, and the animal community for natural disasters. That’s just one of the dozens of ways we at The HSUS help local communities and people and their pets.
Animal Care Expo will cover a wide range of topics aimed at improving the lives of animals both inside shelters and rescues and out in the community. From increasing adoptions to expanding the reach of the animal welfare field into underserved communities to implementing the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ guidelines for improving shelter operations, all sessions have one goal in mind: saving more animals’ lives. In the last few years alone, euthanasia in shelters has decreased by 10 percent. Yet, even though awareness of animal homelessness has increased significantly, only 39 percent of pets in homes are currently adopted from shelters or rescues. By increasing that number just a bit, we can eliminate the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals in our communities.
At Expo we’ll also share lessons from our pioneering Pets for Life program, which is changing the landscape for pet care in underserved communities by providing critical services, such as sterilization and vaccinations. With the help of PetSmart Charities and others, programs modeled on Pets for Life are now operating in 30 communities nationwide. In addition, more Americans are turning to shelters and rescues for their next pet, thanks in part to The HSUS’ partnership with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council on The Shelter Pet Project, a public service campaign that has generated more than $240 million in free adoption-promotion advertisements. We’re committed to empowering local animal shelters and rescues to ensure we reach the day when no companion animal suffers for lack of a home or care. Of course, we’ll have the full range of our resources for shelters and local communities on hand – from our Animal Rescue Team to Animal Sheltering magazine to our Street Dog Defender programs overseas to our feral cat programs to our law enforcement training.
If you haven’t registered, it’s not too late. I hope you’ll think about coming to New Orleans. For those who can’t be there, I’ll be providing regular updates via Facebook. For more information on Animal Care Expo, please visit here or watch this video.
The HSUS’ Equine Protection Department will hold its inaugural national equine event, Honoring the Horse, at the New Orleans Convention Center on March 31st and April 1st in conjunction with Expo. This is an educational event for all those who own and work with horses, and also those who care about the welfare of horses. Featured speakers include Senator Mary Landrieu, the 2011 HSUS Humane Horsewoman of the Year, and Monty Roberts, an award-winning international horse trainer and bestselling author of The Man Who Listens to Horses.