In a disaster, Karen Godfrey of Andover wouldn’t think of leaving her dogs behind. That’s why she helped lead the fundraising drive to bring Minnesota’s first American Kennel Club pet disaster relief trailer to Anoka County.

The trailer, which is expected to arrive this summer, is wired for electricity and will be packed with everything needed to care for at least 65 pets after a fire or tornado: crates to safely confine animals, a generator, a power washer, sanitation supplies, bowls, microchips, a microchip reader, fans and other supplies.

“Pets are such an important part of our family,” Godfrey said. “You wouldn’t leave a child in a disaster, and most of us feel the same way about their pets. … In a disaster, you need a plan.

“This way, people in Anoka County can know that their pets will be taken care of as well as they will.”

The AKC Reunite program was started after Hurricane Katrina, when people caught in the storm endangered themselves by refusing to evacuate without their pets. AKC asks that people interested in getting a trailer consult with local emergency officials to coordinate fundraising. So far, AKC has distributed 20 trailers around the country, with Missouri the nearest state to receive one. Twelve more, including Anoka County’s, will be delivered soon.

The trailers cost $19,000 to $22,000. The Anoka County Kennel Club contributed $12,000 toward the trailer. The Minnesota Purebred Dog Association and local breed clubs representing Siberian huskies, Rottweilers, great danes, Samoyeds, King Charles Cavalier spaniels and golden retrievers each added $1,000.

Godfrey, who raises keeshonds and is with the Anoka County Kennel Club, led the fundraising project with fellow member Cathy Bosnic. She said dog people were eager to contribute.

“We worked on it for a year,” she said. “It seemed like a good way to give back.”

The trailer is a welcome addition to the county’s arsenal of tools to deal with a disaster, said Terry Stoltzman, the county’s emergency management director.

“This was a community-driven project that came to us,” he said. “It’s a huge success story for all of us in Anoka County. They will also help staff it, and it’s great to have that capability in the community.”

Now, caring for pets after a disaster at home is generally handled by individuals, with cities sometimes helping, Stoltzman said. Displaced people usually ask relatives or friends to help care for their pets. Though the new trailer carries supplies to care for pets after a disaster, it will not be used to transport animals. Stoltzman said pets would be moved by vans to a safe place.

The 16-by-7-foot two-axle trailers are white and bear the AKC’s name, along with the names or logos of groups that raised money for the trailer. Anoka County residents are likely to see their trailer at events like the county fair, dog shows and vaccination clinics, said Martha Weaver, the county’s public information manager.

“People will become familiar with it and we’ll do a show-and-tell,” she said. “We might park it in front of a pet store. Having the first one in Minnesota, it’s a privilege.”

Plan = peace of mind

Use of the trailer’s supplies isn’t limited to dogs. “Hamsters, hedgehogs — if someone considers it a pet and we can get it secured in a kennel, we will move it,” Weaver said. “It’s for all domestic pets.”

The county has responsibility for maintaining, insuring and housing the trailer and must display it at least twice a year. Stoltzman said kennel club members have already told him they want to participate in training on how to mobilize the trailer in a disaster. Training will occur when the trailer arrives sometime between May and July.

“We have a list of people who are eager to be involved, and we already know how to care for pets,” Godfrey said.

“It’s the kind of resource I would want for my own animals. I couldn’t imagine leaving them in a disaster. Knowing there is a plan to care for them does give me peace of mind.”

 

Mary Jane Smetanka is a Minneapolis freelance writer.