Leave Fluffy Behind? The U.S. and Pets During Foreign EvacuationsPublished February 28, 2011
he January 25th uprising came as a surprise to many, and led the U.S. Department of State to charter special flights for American residents and visitors leaving Egypt. It also created a harrowing time for Buckley and hundreds of other Americans there who were reportedly forced to leave without their pets.When Kelly Buckley's husband accepted a post with the U.S. Embassy in Egypt last spring, she didn't think twice about taking along their three-year-old German shepherd, Jager.
"I knew from the get-go that pets are our responsibility and that they would not be part of an evacuation situation," Buckley says, "but it's something that I never expected to happen in Cairo."
The January 25th uprising came as a surprise to many, and led the U.S. Department of State to charter special flights for American residents and visitors leaving Egypt. It also created a harrowing time for Buckley and hundreds of other Americans there who were reportedly forced to leave without their pets.
In an "ordered departure" of that kind, U.S. government personnel and family members typically are not given a choice whether to stay or leave, Buckley explains. "It was very heartbreaking. I was basically abandoning my baby."
U.S. Pet Evacuation Law Does Not Extend to Foreign Soil
In the wake of the tragedies caused by Hurricane Katrina, lawmakers passed the U.S. Pet Evacuations and Standards Act of 2006, requiring authorities to include pets in evacuation planning. That law does not apply to foreign evacuations, according to State Department Press Officer Andrew Laine.
While "The Department of State fully understands the importance of pets to their owners," Laine says, "in Egypt our primary concern was the safe and rapid departure of U.S. citizens and U.S. government staff."
Only one of the charter companies hired by the State Department would allow small animals aboard the flights, says Laine. "Larger animals were unable to be accommodated on charter flights and had to be booked on commercial flights from Egyptian airports."
When Buckley received the State Department's evacuation order, commercial airlines had suspended flights due to local airport closures.
Fortunately her husband, ordered to remain in Cairo, looked after Jager until the worsening turmoil in the streets prevented him from leaving the U.S. Embassy. Then the Buckleys arranged for neighbors to care for Jager in their Cairo home, as well as for the two dogs they had been pet sitting for friends who evacuated earlier.
Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals co-founder Mona Khalil calls foreign evacuation policies that don't include pets "irresponsible." They burden local rescue groups with caring for evacuees' animals who in some cases end up on the streets or worse.
Although attorney Laura Allen of the Animal Law Coalition agrees with the State Department's assessment that the pet evacuation law does not apply to U.S. operations in other countries, she adds, "Disaster relief for pets is even more compelling for citizens stranded overseas. People working abroad are more dependent on the government's help in leaving and so are their pets. Under the spirit if not the letter of the Pet Evacuation Standards Act, the State Department should be prepared to evacuate pets and service animals in the event of an emergency."
Inadequate pet evacuation planning can put citizens at greater risk, asserts Kelly Coladarci, a program manager for Humane Society International (HSI). "We all remember the photos from Hurricane Katrina, of people sitting on their roofs with their dogs, not getting into the rescue boats."
Dr. Elliot Katz, a veterinarian and founder and president of In Defense of Animals (IDA), emphasizes, "There are very close, loving bonds that develop between members of our species and members of other species, particularly with dogs and cats, and the love is often as strong as the love with a child."
Egypt Crisis Leads to Scrutiny of Policy
The crisis in Egypt has spurred animal advocates to reexamine U.S. policy on pets during foreign evacuations.
Organizations including the HSI, the American Foreign Service Association, the Foreign Affairs Friends of Animals Network, and the State Department's Family Liaison Office formed the Egypt Pet Support Working Group to address the issue, reports Coladarci.
The coalition is developing a proposed plan under which it might assist the State Department in making future foreign evacuations of pets easier and less expensive, she says. For example HSI might provide experienced personnel to help in safe handling and loading of the departing animals, while other coalition members and the State Department coordinate logistics such as security and paperwork.
After leaving Cairo, Buckley worked constantly with her husband to arrange for their dog to join her in Washington, D.C. Egypt's shut-down of telephones and the Internet on some days of the unrest didn't help.
Eventually, with the unofficial, Good Samaritan help of fellow embassy workers, the couple was able to get Jager on a commercial flight, at a cost of $2,300.
In the hours after Buckley and Jager were reunited in Washington, the dog snoozed at her feet, tired but safe. From Jager's point of view, it seems, he had just spent the previous two weeks partying with his two doggie friends inside the Buckley's Cairo apartment. (The other two dogs also made it home safely on commercial flights.)
However, the weeks have not passed so blithely for Buckley, who spent many sleepless nights wondering if she'd ever see her dog again, and worrying about fellow evacuees who still have not gotten their pets out of Egypt.
The State Department has contacted about 150 "affected pet owners," says press officer Laine, providing "flight and shipping information for those wishing to ship their pets via commercial carrier."
"There are no good excuses for not evacuating pet animals and service animals right along with their people," argues ALC's Allen. "It is simply a matter of planning."
Image Source: Kelly Buckley