No Pet Left Behind: The Grantmakers Aiming to Rescue Animals When Disaster Strikes

The record-breaking hurricane season of 2005 that brought Hurricane Katrina was a watershed moment in terms of disaster preparedness, and even a reality check on the impacts of climate change.

It also changed how we think about animals when an emergency strikes. In the case of Katrina, nearly half of the people who chose not to evacuate remained because they didn’t want to leave their pets. The aftermath for pets that had to be left behind, often for much longer than owners expected, was devastating. 

While emergency animal rescue is not a new concept, it’s become clear in the last decade that the profound emotional connections between humans and pets must be considered as a source of both vulnerability and strength during disasters. Those connections even prompted new policy that requires governments to account for household pets in response efforts. 

This has also become a focus for philanthropy, as response efforts cost money, and when disaster strikes, local resources can be overwhelmed in a short period of time. Volunteer and donation-fueled nonprofits played a large role in rescuing animals following Katrina, and have continued to do so in other disasters. One example is a couple of new grants from the Banfield Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Banfield Pet Hospital. 

    Banfield runs about 900 vet clinics around the country, many in partnership with PetSmart, but operating as a subsidiary of Mars Incorporated, the conglomerate that owns many pet care brands along with its candy empire. In 2015, Banfield launched a foundation expanding on past giving, and the following year, the funder expanded to include disaster relief grants as one of its priorities. 


    The grantmaker’s latest awards from this program will fund mobile veterinary units—large trucks that can respond with emergency services during disasters—one for the nonprofit American Humane, and another for the Texas A&M University Veterinary Emergency Team. Such vehicles have responded in the aftermath of flooding in West Virginia and Louisiana and other disasters. 

    In the case of American Humane, the nonprofit has existing emergency vehicles funded previously by Banfield and individual donor Lois Pope, and is now adding a West Coast truck. Interestingly, the Texas A&M team is part of a collaborative response effort, a product of the university and the Texas Animal Health Commission, aiding state and county emergency response plans. It’s the nation’s largest emergency veterinary medicine team in terms of patient capacity, but this grant adds its first fully equipped truck-based unit. 

    These grants exemplify a couple of trends in philanthropy. For one, there’s the focus on pets and disasters, an area where financial needs can be acute and swamp existing resources. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has built in a section on animal welfare in its Disaster Philanthropy Playbook, emphasizing the need for preparation, education, and mobilizing rescue operations. We've even seen the launch of a new funder collaborative devoted entirely to supporting animals during disasters. Participants include Maddie's Fund and Petco Foundation. 

    There is also a component of resilience in the face of climate change and related natural disasters. Communities all over the world face challenges preparing for emerging shocks and stresses, and major funders like Rockefeller have made it part of their missions to supplement public resources in this area. With a greater awareness of the importance of pets, this is yet another area where philanthropy is stepping in. 

    Related: When the Floods Come, Rockefeller Wants This Region to be Ready