Pet Lover Geek

Don't Forget Fido: Planning for Disasters & Emergencies

September 15, 2020 Lorien Clemens Season 5 Episode 7
Don't Forget Fido: Planning for Disasters & Emergencies
Pet Lover Geek
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Pet Lover Geek
Don't Forget Fido: Planning for Disasters & Emergencies
Sep 15, 2020 Season 5 Episode 7
Lorien Clemens

This week on Pet Lover Geek, Lorien sits down with John Peaveler, the Lieutenant of Emergency Services at San Diego Humane Society. John oversees the Emergency Response Team which is a multi-faceted staff and volunteer team of about 160 people who provide emergency animal response services across the country.

John and Lorien talk about some of the best ways pet parents can include their pets in disaster preparedness planning. John also shares an insider look into the work his team does on the ground during disasters.

Thanks for listening! Check out our sponsor, PetHub for more great pet parent resources.

Have an idea for a PetLoverGeek episode or have something else you want to share? Drop us a note to

Show Notes Transcript

This week on Pet Lover Geek, Lorien sits down with John Peaveler, the Lieutenant of Emergency Services at San Diego Humane Society. John oversees the Emergency Response Team which is a multi-faceted staff and volunteer team of about 160 people who provide emergency animal response services across the country.

John and Lorien talk about some of the best ways pet parents can include their pets in disaster preparedness planning. John also shares an insider look into the work his team does on the ground during disasters.

Thanks for listening! Check out our sponsor, PetHub for more great pet parent resources.

Have an idea for a PetLoverGeek episode or have something else you want to share? Drop us a note to

00:05 Lorien Clemens
Welcome to Pet Lover Geek powered by PetHub, pet lovers! I’m Lorien Clemens, and today we will be talking with one of our country’s leading experts on emergency animal response, John Peaveler.

September is National Preparedness Month and throughout the month national organizations encourage families to prepare for natural disasters and emergencies. There are a variety of resources available online with information about making a plan, building an emergency preparedness kit, preparing for disasters, and educating youth about preparedness. 

Now, it can be easy during all of this to forget about your pet -- but remember they are a part of the family and it’s an important step because what is best for you isn’t always best for your pets in an emergency situation.

So today, John Peaveler from San Diego Human Society is not only giving us expert tips for including your pets in those preparedness plans, but he is also give us an inside look at how emergency response teams help animals during the world’s biggest disasters.

01:12 Lorien Clemens
Today we are talking to John Peaveler, the Lieutenant of Emergency Services in the Humane Law Enforcement Department at San Diego Humane Society. John oversees the Emergency Response Team which is a multi-faceted staff and volunteer team of about 160 people who provide emergency animal response services across the country. 

01:32 Lorien Clemens
John, we're really excited to have you today on Pet Lover Geek, and you have over 16 years of global experience in animal welfare, primarily in the fields of disaster response and management, animal handling and capture, and community animal management.

Now you started with your animal welfare career back in 2004 and it just kind of fell into your lap as I was reading your bio that you provided for us. I would love it if you could tell our listeners how you actually started working with animals?

01:59 John Peaveler
It's such a long story but I am going to give you the short version. So I was working as a military contractor; I had spent four years in the Air Force and I was getting ready to go back to school. I took a job in Kuwait of all places and I was on al-Jaber Air Base which is in the middle of nowhere -- at that time there was only one road going to al-Jaber Air Base way out in the desert. We were like 12 Americans and like 6 Kuwaiti F-18's, and most of the stuff there had been blown up in the first war so it was a pretty desolate setting.

I didn't know anything about dogs. I had one dog and one cat growing up, but they didn't really form a core part of my life. I just wasn't an animal lover. I think I am just hardwired to be a problem solver, so when we had some dogs show up -- I don't know, I fell in love with them, I guess, maybe I am just a late bloomer for being an animal lover because it is definitely a huge part of my life now. But those dogs showed up and they were so interesting because they would hunt -- I mean, they were way out there, there is very little for them to live on.

There was no owners, no caretakers, nobody was giving them food, they were completely self-reliant, but that has pretty severe limitations. You kind of see those limitations most profoundly when puppies start showing up. So we had one of two females had 11 puppies under the shed behind our workplace, and the other one had 6 puppies on the other side of the base. So I very quickly found myself the caregiver for ultimately about 18 dogs.

I put those 18 dogs in an abandoned warehouse and built myself a little desert shelter -- I mean I wasn't thinking, I was a complete idiot. But I knew that if I didn't care for these dogs, death was going to 100% be the outcome. This was a country with no animal welfare laws, no animal shelters, no animal rescues at that time, just a couple of really substandard veterinary practices. Just very, very few resources.

Through this process I met a couple of people who were doing animal rescue. They were just starting to get organized and they decided that they were going to build an animal shelter, so they just started to break ground. That sort of coincident with when I got caught with my 18 dogs when they were infecting the base, and I was given 48 hours to remove them which honestly was kind of lenient considering I was occupying a military facility.

So, these 18 dogs were the first dogs in that animal shelter. From there, once my contract lapsed, I worked in that animal shelter. I ultimately married the woman who was building it on her families property. We built that organization from just a few dogs to some cats, to some donkeys, eventually to some baboons and foxes and hyenas --

04:52 Lorien Clemens

04:54 John Peaveler
Lots of falcons and eagles. We did a lot of different programming. We got into marine conservation trying to protect Kuwait's very fragile reefs -- the furthest north reefs in the world and very, very fragile. A lot of sea life and stuff at high risk, and then just a lot of free roaming animals. A really high density of cats in the developed areas, and reasonably high density of dogs in the undeveloped areas. So definitely a lot of challenges.

05:23 Lorien Clemens
Incredible. It's an incredible story, and I love the fact that you found your wife after that. I will say that even though you were a late bloomer, clearly you dove in head first into animal welfare. Good for you - happy to have you onboard with what we all do now! Incredible.

So you really started at the deep end of the pool with doing this kind of stuff, so we are going to tap into that knowledge that you have gained over the years. And so let's bring it back to what we are talking about right now which is being prepared for disaster preparedness and things like that. Primarily we are talking to folks that are here in the United States -- we will get into more international stuff in just a bit. But, you know, one of the best tools that a pet parent can have to stay safe during an emergency and disaster is being prepared with things that are pretty common sense type things, but I would love it if you could talk about those resources that are available to help the community plan, to help families plan and how to bring pets into those plans.

So, give us your top tips for pet parents on how to be prepared for these emergencies because you never know when they could happen.

06:32 John Peaveler
You've got to do at least a basic threat assessment. Like what are the major risk factors where you live, and that is probably pretty obvious unless you've just moved to a community. If you have just moved, then ask around. What places flood? Have you had wildfires? Different communities are susceptible to different things. So have some idea of what the risks are. That should give you an idea of how much time you are going to have to prepare when one of these most common type of events happen, which will then feed into how many layers of planning do you to have.

I live in southern California and wildfires are a constant risk. The whole state is on fire at the moment just about. So you might have hours or days to prepare because it is burning slowly towards you, or you might have minutes and you might not even be home. So you have to have a plan for yourself like if I am home I've got my crate, my animals are used to their crate, we've got food ready, we are ready to grab our animals and go. And if you are not home, you're neighbors know. Or you know what numbers to call so if you couldn't get home, I am going to call dispatch for humane law or whatever is in your community. Who am I going to call to help if I can't get home?

That is reality, you know, we all go out, we all do things -- a little less right now but normal life will resume at some point. So you have got to have adequate layers for your plan just based on what your risks are.

But we really encourage individual accountability because no matter how robust your emergency services are locally any organization can be overwhelmed. So if I have 20 rescuers out, they are divided into 2 per vehicle maybe and so the number of calls we can serve at once are limited. There are a lot of communication and risk factors for the rescuers and we can only get to so many properties and help to some of the animals.

The more people that are individually prepared and have thought this through -- they know where they are going to go, they've talked to friends and family -- if you have a plan we are not going to have to come rescue your animals, we will go rescue somebody else's animals who just couldn't get out for whatever reason.

08:36 Lorien Clemens
Two things you said that I want to tap into. Number one is knowing where you live and what the risk factors are. I lived in Phoenix for six year and never once in a million years did I ever think that flood was going to be one of the things that I would have to deal with. And yet, we'd have these monsoon seasons that would hit in Phoenix -- and even though I had been through several, I had never been in the particular place that I lived and I didn't know I was in a flood plain. In Phoenix of all things -- you don't think of Phoenix, Arizona the desert being a flood zone!

We flooded within 30 minutes of the down pour and my house was filled with ankle deep water, and we had to get out quickly. I was caught unawares. So if you have moved to a new place talk to your neighbors, get to know that community and what are those dangers. And particularly in that community because like I said you could live in a flood plain and not even know.

But you mentioned something else that I think perhaps a lot of people aren't prepared with. You mentioned crate and my animal feels comfortable in their crate. That is a key no matter where you live is that crate training. Can you talk a little bit about that and what are the benefits of having a crate trained animal, even if they are a cat -- cat or dog -- being ready to go at the last minute with crate training.

09:47 John Peaveler
We know that just in daily life that having an animal that is well adjusted to a crate can be pretty beneficial, especially if you are talking about a smaller dog or a cat. Just going to the vet. If going to the vet is a complete nightmare because your animal is not conditioned to their crate, that's a daily life sort of thing let alone during an emergency.

During an emergency you are going to be stressed and that is going to be dependent on how dire and acute this emergency is. Is it right outside the front door and you are trying to shove your animal in a crate and they haven't been in a crate in six years since they came home from the shelter?

Also, what is their temperament? My dogs are really socialized. If I need to shove them in a crate today they are going to get over it pretty fast, but a lot of cats are not as socialized or not as conditioned. A lot of dogs are really scared of things based on what they have gone through in life or just their personalities even, you know, so many unique varieties of behavior. It can be really, really hugely traumatizing to force them into a little box.

While I am not here to give training or behavior advice, um, the simple point is to make sure your animal is used to going in their crate. There are all sorts of ways to do that. You can take your crate apart and just make it into a bed, or feed your animals in the crate. Our dogs are crate trained because we train them in crates when they are young. We don't have crates out for them now but they have no issue going into them because we fed them in their crates for a couple of years when we first got them. That's a great way to condition an animal. It's always a positive experience. Just like any other training we are doing, make it positive.

11:21 Lorien Clemens
And if you are looking for crate training resources, we have them on, you can talk to your local training resources. We definitely recommend that. We are going to take a quick little break and when we come back we are going to talk with John about emergency response across the United States and how his team has had to shift in the midst of COVID-19. You alluded to that earlier. So stay tuned, we are going to come back in just a minute and hear more from John. 

11:56 Lorien Clemens
San Diego Humane Society is one of the biggest humane societies in the United States, caring for more than 50,000 animals in 12 cities within San Diego County alone and sharing over 140 years of expertise with organizations across the country. 

John, offline we were talking about the differences in emergency animal response among communities just here in the United States and how there are disparities depending on where you live and how many resources you are going to have available to you. In your experience working across the nation, what are those challenges that you see facing communities as they are trying to prepare for different disasters?

12:32 John Peaveler
There is definitely a lack of resources in a lot of areas and that's understandable. If you're very rural, you probably have no shelter or a very small shelter so your resources are going to naturally be very limited. Daily care of animals is not a huge priority if you don't have very many animals.

There are so many challenges that animals shelters and welfare organizations face day to day. It's really difficult to prioritize something that might happen one day, and it's very difficult to prioritize funds for that as well. If your day to day is just can we feed everybody, can we pay everybody, and can we make sure everybody is medically well -- if that is the best you can do everyday then it's really hard to be forward thinking, and that's really understandable.

That's why organizations like ours work so hard to support any organization that we can, whether that's information resources or actual field response. That's why national organizations exist as well; before a disaster, to be a think tank of how can we help you prepare, how can we make you more resilient, can we pair you with another shelter so that especially if you are on a storm track --  like we know a hurricane is coming towards you -- let's get you evacuated, let's have a sister shelters that's 50, 100 miles away out of danger where we can send you animals and your building is empty. Not only does that mean your animals are going to be safe during a storm but it means that it is going to be empty when there are needs in your community.

14:02 Lorien Clemens
You just talked about hurricanes and I would love it if you could give some examples of how a big national response team, like you guys have at San Diego Humane, can go in and help a community during one of these disasters that has the lack of resources. So you mentioned the hurricanes, I know that a lot of times it seems like the places that are most hard hit are smaller communities with something like a hurricane or a tornado or things like that.

Can you give an example about how San Diego Humane has gone in and helped one of those communities in the aftermath?

14:34 John Peaveler
Yeah, definitely. First of all, there are sort of concentric circles of response. All disasters should be managed and dealt with at the lowest possible level -- that's just how the entire national system works. If you can deal with it within your town then great, or within your county awesome, or within your state even better. If it's got to be at the federal level, FEMA does exist but they have finite resources as well. The same is true for animal emergency response. If you have the resources to manage the disaster locally, you should do so. If you can't, then there are resources out there like San Diego Humane.

We've done quite a few hurricanes in the past several years and we've done fires forever -- as long as there has been fires in San Diego County we have helped in one way or another. We help in a variety of different ways. We do animal sheltering. That is very much the core of what we do as an organization is provide shelter to animals that need it, and disasters tend to displace a lot of animals. Whether they are with their animals in co-habitated shelters, co-located shelters, or on their own because the animals and the people are separated. So we do a lot of sheltering in that capacity.

We have a water rescue team that does primarily flood water. So we have trained boat operators and water rescuers and they are all kitted out to go into neighborhoods and residences to rescue animals. We've done large animals and small animals through that.

We often work with national partners who have farther reach in many ways because they are constantly working that national network of shelters. So we work very closely with organizations like the ASPCA and HSUS. We have a very solid national team but we often need help to spread resources where they need to get to. Everybody has a limited number of resources, so it's really just trying to prioritize who has the greatest need in the moment and how can we help with that.

There are so many different ways to help, whether it's aid distribution or animal sheltering or field rescue. We try to be prepared to do all of those which is why our team is so big and so diverse within our organization. We have a lot of staff and a lot of volunteers involved, and that is because we have disciplines like everything from animal care and handling specialists in a shelter to a shelter manager to the response team leader -- there are just so many different specialties. We keep it within the things that our organization can do and things that are sort of tangential to our normal everyday mission, but we do a lot of things because we are -- like you said -- I am fairly sure the largest humane society in the world so we do a lot of things day to day so we are prepared to do a lot of things during emergencies as well.

17:16 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, you guys do tremendous service and it's amazing the breadth that you are able to cover because of your size. It's fantastic.

By the way, you mentioned displaced animals is a big part of these disasters and I want to go back to that preparedness part because we didn't really touch on this. Here at PetHub, we are all about identification and so being prepared with your pet's identification, if you have got a PetHub ID tag for example, every three to six months you should be going on there and making sure everything is up to date. Making sure that your microchip is up to date. Making sure that the tag is securely attached to the collar and is easy to read, so that should they become displaced from you during one of these disasters they can quickly find their way back to you. Any other kinds of things in terms of basic preparedness for identification and getting pets back to you that you want people to know?

18:04 John Peaveler
I mean that is absolutely huge. That is such a big component because if you get separated from your animal for whatever reason, the one thing that is going to help you get through a disaster -- if you've lost your home or whatever -- is being reunified with your pet. We see story after story and disaster after disaster of "we lost everything, we thought we lost our pet too and yet here is Fido". Having those identification options is so important.

I have two Pointers and they are just the busiest dogs on Earth -- they are only sleeping today because it is so hot here at the moment. Their tags wear out in less than a year, like the engraved metal tags need to be replaced and you have to stay on top of that stuff because if someone can't read it it doesn't do any good.

The same with the digital stuff. If you adopted your animal and it wasn't updated from whoever you got it from, make sure it is up to date.

The same for the license. Licensing does a lot, it's not just for funding local rescues. A huge part of it is reunification and making sure your animal can get back to you.

19:11 Lorien Clemens
Yeah and it is that legal proof that that animal belongs to you and so they are going to work to get that animal back to you. And especially if you are in a community like San Diego that is lucky enough to have a digital ID tag, it's important in times like these because you can go and update that information. We've had people displaced because of tornado, hurricane, whatever and they have to be in a shelter and they can actually go update that information on the pet's profile so that when the animal is found they can find you where you are right now, even if your house is gone or inhabitable. So super important to do that.

19:40 John Peaveler
It creates huge challenges for organizations too if you can't prove ownership and there is any dispute whatsoever, we've got to hold the animal until it is resolved. And, you know, the animal doesn't want to be there anymore than you want the animal to be there, but we also can't hand animals out to people that they don't belong to. It can really create some problems.

20:00 Lorien Clemens
So get that pet licensed, that's a mantra we have around here all the time! I want to touch real quickly on COVID because that's pretty much consuming everybody's life right now. It has shocked the entire world and it's really affecting the animal welfare community. I want to bring it back though to San Diego County and what you guys are doing at the humane society to help provide support during this really unprecedented time.

20:24 John Peaveler
We are being as proactive as we possibly can be, so identifying that a lot of people are struggling right now and that includes a lot of pet parents. We always identify that animals are happiest with their families, whatever their family looks like whether that family has a home or doesn't have a home day to day, it doesn't matter we still want to keep animals with their families. That is so important to the animal and so important to us.

So we have done a lot of aid distribution, which we do all the time. We did it long before COVID but we ramped it up in a huge, huge way because of COVID and seeing the need that has arisen and predicting that that will only get worse with time as the economy continues to try to grind forward. There is a lot of need out there so we want to make sure we are in front of that.

The team has definitely had to make a lot of adjustments. It has been really hard to do training. We would have normally done a lot of pretty large scale fire response training by now and that has been really risky. So we were playing that balancing act between how risky is it for the responders versus how risky is it to not be ready to do things. So a lot of challenges definitely.

I think all teams and organizations are working through that. Just trying to get the best information and trying to keep everybody safe.

21:42 Lorien Clemens
Yeah it is really important. This is a disaster, what we are in right now is a disaster. So we are all in the middle of that disaster response right now.

I know that as of August 1, just a couple weeks ago, you guys had distributed over 750,000 meals to the pets in your community in response to this. We are grateful to have organizations like you throughout the country helping animals for sure.

22:06 John Peaveler
I think we just hit one million meals.

22:09 Lorien Clemens
Did you? Because we did the pre-work for this episode like three weeks ago so I knew it was over 800,000 at that time. So that is incredible! You know, everyone that is in your community is lucky and I know a lot of communities are doing this kind of work. But it's important to put that reminder out there that if you are in a position where you can help you should be reaching out to your local humane society and say how can I help?

Maybe it's donating food, maybe it is donating money, you know, what have you, but there is a lot --

22:36 John Peaveler
Becoming a foster family.

22:37 Lorien Clemens
Become a foster family, for sure! This is a tough time for animals too, they didn't ask to be put in this situation -- none of us asked to be put in the COVID situation but do what you can to help and we will all get through this together because we are all in it together.

John, before we say goodbye I would love it if you could tell people how they can learn more about the work you do with the animal response team over there at San Diego Humane.

22:57 John Peaveler
We like to keep it pretty easy so our website is and you can follow us on Twitter @sdhumane and I don't follow all of the social media myself but pretty much everything is sdhumane.

23:11 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, it's awesome. And you guys have incredible education resources there, great videos, it's wonderful. I can't recommend visiting that website enough. Even if you don't live in the San Diego area it's a really great website to learn a lot from.

John, thank you so much for joining us today -- really tremondous the work that you do out there is incredible and everyone that benefits from it is very lucky to have you. Thank you for all you do.

23:33 John Peaveler
Thank you, thank you for your support.

23:35 Lorien Clemens
That’s it for today’s episode of Pet Lover Geek, thanks for listening and be sure to check out our past episodes as we talk to more industry experts on all things pets and tech. See you next time on Pet Lover Geek, powered by PetHub!