Pet Points: Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team mobilizes for disasters

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Hurricane Sandy and the 12th anniversary of Flight 93 are reminders that disasters -- natural or manmade -- can happen anytime. The question is not "if?" but "when?"

The veterinary community is preparing for a major disaster with the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team. Organized both on the state and county level, they are planning for any animal, any disaster, anytime. It is under the direction of Joel Hersh and boasts an impressive list of qualified volunteers.

"Although PASART was created to assist our animals during a disaster, we see part of our mission as educating animal caregivers on how to prepare for disasters and have a family plan for contingencies," Mr. Hersh said. "You never know when a disaster will strike. Best to be prepared."

The team is a a private-public partnership bringing together indivduals, organizations, businesses, and federal, state, county and local agencies.The group supports the prevention, preparedness, response and recovery for emergencies affecting animals. More than 1,600 individuals have volunteered to help.

PASART's primary goal is to facilitate a rapid, coordinated and effective response to emergencies. Secondarily, it aims to decrease the health and safety threat to humans and animals. Additionally the group will try to minimize the economic impact of emergencies affecting animals and prevent or decrease the spread of disease during emergencies.

The website ( gives complete information for pet owners, horse owners and farmers. Also on the website is a complete first-aid program for pet owners.

People often return to a disaster area before authorities recommend it, putting lives at risk. The No. 1 reason to tempt fate is to care for pets left behind. PASART encourages owners to prepare for the unexpected. Always keep a week's ration of food, water and medication for pets on hand. Make sure that pets have proper identification with collars and tags or microchips. Have a copy of all important paperwork like licenses and medical history. Keep a pet first-aid kit on hand and see the website for a list of suggested items.

Organized as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3), the group solicits both volunteers and contributions from individuals and corporations. Professionals and animal lovers are urged to become involved and trained to respond. Our PASART team recently assisted in the housing of pets displaced by Hurricane Sandy. Twenty-five shelters in 18 counties participated in caring for animals in need. Multiple monthly training programs are offered throughout the commonwealth.

People who have special experience with animals such as veterinarians, obedience trainers, shelter workers and canine police officers can volunteer to be available if a crisis happens. Animal lovers can volunteer to be on call, and donations of time, supplies and financial support are also welcome. PASART has enjoyed a wonderful relationship with officials in both state and federal government and is proud to be considered one of the best volunteer-based animal response programs in the country.


Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.


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