Response Teams Provide Shelter for Pets of Evacuated Vermonters | True 802 | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Response Teams Provide Shelter for Pets of Evacuated Vermonters

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Published July 16, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated July 26, 2023 at 2:07 p.m.


Volunteer Cathy Plas with Stoney at the temporary animal shelter in Barre - KEN PICARD ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Ken Picard ©️ Seven Days
  • Volunteer Cathy Plas with Stoney at the temporary animal shelter in Barre
Stoney stood in his crate and complained loudly, his high-pitched whines echoing in the near-empty B.O.R. Ice Arena in Barre. But the brindle mutt immediately quieted down once Cathy Plas, a volunteer with the Central Vermont Disaster Animal Response Team, or CVDART, leashed him for a quick walk outside.

“He’s been very vocal this whole time,” Plas said about the mouthy, 18-month-old pup that gnawed playfully on her fingers.

As of late Wednesday, Stoney was one of five companion animals housed in Barre’s emergency animal shelter, which opened on the afternoon of Monday, July 10. Lisa Lemieux, who chairs CVDART, said that when she arrived at 3 p.m. that day with the group’s equipment trailer — it stocks everything necessary to set up an emergency shelter, including cages, blankets, food, water, cleaning supplies, lights and generators — there were already residents waiting to drop off their pets.



Like nearly all of the animals the organization took in, Stoney was there because his owner was staying next door at the Red Cross shelter in the Barre Municipal Auditorium. By midweek, the organization was caring for 26 pets whose owners were forced from their homes by floodwaters.

They included two cats brought in early Wednesday after rescuers evacuated their owner through her kitchen window. Because the woman (whom volunteers declined to identify for privacy reasons) was hospitalized, animal rescuers had to return for her cats, which had spent more than two days in a mud-soaked trailer.

“One is acting normal, but the other one is pretty shut down and very scared,” Plas explained after she bathed the kitties. “I think I did as much as I can do without severely stressing them out.”

By Friday night, the shelter was caring for six dogs, seven cats, two guinea pigs and a rabbit, though the numbers were changing often. By Saturday, a total of 60 animals had come through the shelter.
Chowder, a cat whose owner had to flee floodwaters - KEN PICARD ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Ken Picard ©️ Seven Days
  • Chowder, a cat whose owner had to flee floodwaters
CVDART is a regional chapter of the Vermont Disaster Animal Response Team, or VDART, and one of three teams deployed in response to recent flooding. The Vermont group was created in 2007 following enactment of the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which Congress passed in response to Hurricane Katrina.

During the 2005 hurricane, many evacuees couldn’t use emergency shelters with their pets, which led to both human and animal deaths. Passed in 2006, the PETS Act now requires any group or government agency seeking disaster-related reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to include companion animals in their operational plans.

“Vermont has one of the highest pet-ownership rates of any state in the country. Over 70 percent of families have animals,” VDART chair Joanne Bourbeau of Whitingham said. “So when people are impacted, we know there’s going to be an animal component.”

This is the first time that three DART chapters — in Barre, Rutland and the Upper Valley — have been called up simultaneously in a statewide disaster, Bourbeau said. And while those teams are not equipped to handle livestock and other large animals, nor provide search-and-rescue operations for pets, they are trained and equipped to accept most companion animals, including birds, rodents, reptiles and amphibians.

DART shelters such as the one in Barre are almost always set up near human shelters, Lemieux said. Having the animals and their owners in close proximity allows them to interact, lowering their respective stress levels and reducing the workload for animal shelter volunteers.
Pepper the dog and his owner - COURTESY OF CVDART
  • Courtesy of CVDART
  • Pepper the dog and his owner

That said, DART volunteers will care for and comfort the animals while their owners cannot, Lemieux added; the groups’ mandate is for the animal shelters to remain open for as long as the human shelters are, too.

If Vermonters want to help, Bourbeau said, the organization prefers financial contributions rather than supplies, which have to be transported and stored. All cash donations through its website — vermontdart.org — go directly into an emergency animal relief fund, for this and future disaster responses.

And, for those animal lovers who want to get involved and lend a hand, all the teams in the state could use additional volunteers, especially the Chittenden County DART, Bourbeau noted, which has struggled to find new members. Extra volunteers are also welcome because sometimes DART workers themselves are affected by the disaster; Plas said she was delayed in getting to Barre from her home in Duxbury because the route was temporarily impassable.
Some of the organization's first responders - COURTESY OF CVDART
  • Courtesy of CVDART
  • Some of the organization's first responders
Lemieux pointed out that, barring a life-or-death scenario, pet owners should always take their animals with them when they evacuate; leaving them behind can put rescuers in danger later. She also recommended that all pet owners keep an emergency “go bag” for their animals, which should contain extra food, water, bowls, medication, toys, a blanket and other pet supplies.

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