Letter to the Editor: California Lawmakers Must Protect People and Pets During Extreme Weather Events

Brittany Benesi, Columnist

California has long been at the forefront of climate change, and following reports that July was the hottest month on record, it’s even more apparent that the impact of natural disasters and extreme weather events requires immediate action. While the risks to public health and community safety are always top of mind in this conversation, sharing in this risk – and often overlooked – are residents’ pets. 

Currently, unclear state guidance and low rate of pet-friendly emergency shelter facilities or “co-shelters” – where people can take and stay with their pets – are enhancing the human risks associated with any emergency response. Those who are denied shelter with their pets may refuse evacuation or attempt to illegally reenter evacuation sites to rescue their animals, threatening their own safety and that of first responders. 

A recent ASPCA survey of California pet owners revealed that 76 percent of respondents who reported they would evacuate to a public evacuation shelter plan to bring their pets with them. Additionally, more than half of respondents (51 percent) would only evacuate if they could take their pets with them, demonstrating the importance of increasing access to emergency shelters that accommodate pets. 

Thankfully, Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego) has introduced a bill (A.B. 781) that would require local governments to designate pet-friendly sheltering sites, so families have a safe and comfortable place to go. 

A.B. 781 was unanimously approved in the California Assembly but must also pass the Senate before it can become law. As a constituent of Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil, I am grateful for her support of this critical bill in committee, and urge her continued support to help prevent life-threatening situations and ensure California families with pets can safely seek shelter when disaster strikes. 

Brittany Benesi, ASPCA Senior Director of State Legislation for the Western Division, Truckee. This piece was also run in The Sierra Sun, a sister publication of the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

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