Izzy, held by her “owner” Marnie Norvell of Ashland, gets checked in by Donna Patnesky of Jackson County Animal Control at a shelter set up for dogs and cats at the Jackson County Expo Monday as part of a statewide earthquake disaster drill. - Jim Craven

Pets need saving, too

An earthquake disaster drill Monday tested Jackson County's first shelter for pets displaced by an emergency.

While county officials worked from an emergency-operations center in the Community Justice Building at 1101 W. Main St., volunteers from Friends of the Jackson County Animal Shelter and Ashland's Community Emergency Response Team worked with animal control staff to organize a companion animal shelter at the Jackson County Expo's Olsrud Pavilion.

A shelter for pets might seem over the top, but emergency management officials have learned dogs and cats need help in disasters, too. After Hurricane Katrina, some people wouldn't leave their flooded homes without their pets, and some pets that were left behind created problems for rescue crews.

"We would only set up (the animal shelter) if we had a shelter for people," said Gary Stevens, Jackson County's environmental health program manager.

The statewide training exercise, "Cascadia Peril," was designed around a mammoth earthquake last Friday from British Columbia to Oregon that closed Interstate 5, interrupted power supplies, and shut down most telephone communication. By Monday, "recovery" had begun, and there were two shelters at the Expo — one for people who had to evacuate their damaged homes, and one for their dogs and cats.

The shelters were in adjacent buildings at the Expo, so people could visit their pets, feed them and take them outside to do their chores.

"The idea would be that the owner of the pet is responsible for its care," Stevens said. "We just provide a shelter."

The earthquake scenario included destruction of the Jackson County Courthouse, where the emergency management team usually operates. Part of the exercise involved setting up an alternate emergency-operations center at the Community Justice Building, and establishing communications with other emergency-service providers.

Much of the exercise involved establishing communication bases, and there were no mock victims lying on the ground waiting for emergency responders. Except for a communication van parked at the Community Justice building, most people wouldn't have noticed anything unusual.

The displaced dogs and their owners were given different needs, to test the volunteers' response. Peggy Moore of Colestin played an anxious woman who brought in "Jasper," an 8-week-old puppy that she rescued. The shelter decided not to stress puppies for the exercise, so Moore cradled a little stuffed animal in her arms while she told the intake person about Jasper's needs.

"It does help to practice," Moore said as she waited for someone to take Jasper to a kennel. "Running through it gives the staff and volunteers who would be helping in a real situation a chance to see how it works and things to improve."

The next dog to arrive, an elegant papillon named Izzy, sat in Marnie Norvell's lap. The script called for Izzy to bite Donna Patnesky's hand during the registration process, when people would fill out paperwork for their dog prior to having it assigned to a crate.

"That's never happened before," Norvell said, feigning humiliation. "She's so frightened."

"Am I bleeding badly?" quipped Patnesky, one of the animal shelter staff who registered dogs and their owners. Apparently she was, and badly enough to go get her hand bandaged.

"Now I have to do a bite report," she said.

After Norvell registered her dog, the script called for someone who spoke only Spanish to bring in a pet.

The call went out, "Does anyone here speak Spanish?" but no one did, a problem that could be noted and addressed in the future.

"I'm glad we're doing this," Patnesky said, "because if a situation came up where I had to evacuate and I couldn't take my animals, I wouldn't go, just like (the victims of) Katrina."

Officials will review how the drill played out in an "after action report" that analyzes what worked and what didn't, said Mike Curry, the county's director of emergency management.

"The idea of the exercising is finding gaps in your plan," Curry said.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail

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