In collaboration with the USDA, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and the American National Red Cross, Friends For Life helped to create a national disaster manual for launching and running a cohabitated shelter. Extensive field guides already exist to brief jurisdictions on every aspect of human-shelter management, ranging from handling HVAC systems to parking.
This manual, based in part on Houston’s experience with Harvey, supplements those materials, providing a crash course on how to keep families intact while also attending to public health and safety concerns.Cohabitated-HumanHousehold-Pet-Sheltering-Toolkit
Legal Issues Surrounding Sheltering Animals in Disasters
Friends For Life and South Texas College of Law Animal Law Clinic Team up
In discussing this manual with Team Louisiana and the Red Cross Mass Disaster director, Friends For Life saw a place we are particularly suited to make a contribution. We could fill in the gaps on the legal issues surrounding creating a cohabitated shelter and speak to licensing, jurisdiction, liability and regulations.
Hurricane Harvey happened to coincide with the first semester of the first Animal Law Clinic at South Texas College of Law Houston. The students, under the direction of Dean Dennis and Professor Shuttlesworth (Shuttlesworth is also the Executive Director of Friends For Life, the shelter that organized and led the first cohabitated shelter in Houston,) tackled answering important questions about possession, cruelty, liability for volunteers both DVMs and non-DVMs, Good Samaritan laws, veterinary licensing, controlled drug laws and many more that came up in the course of the disaster response.
Also contributing to the manual was Friends For Life Fix Houston program manager, Keri Meyer.
We chose to present the most commonly encountered issues in an FAQ format and written with a view toward accessibility and utility for non-lawyers. While we are in Texas and have emphasized Texas and Louisiana statutes in some cases, we endeavored to make the information provided as broad as possible to make this manual useful in all states.
Who is the target audience and what is its intended use?
- Shelters/rescue management that are tasked with setting up a cohabitation shelter during or in preparation for a disaster.
- Veterinarians who may volunteer or consider volunteering at a cohabitation shelter.
- Individuals who may be staff or volunteers working under or with the animal shelter tasked with setting up the cohabitation shelter.
I. The Foundation of Caring for Pets in Disasters:
The PETS Act amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to ensure that State and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.
The PETS Act authorizes FEMA to provide rescue, care, shelter, and essential needs for individuals with household pets and service animals, and to the household pets and animals themselves following a major disaster or emergency. This extremely broad authorization leaves many open questions about rights, legal duties and obligations.
II. Issues for Veterinarians:
A. Veterinarian Registration:
Can an Out of State Veterinarian Offer Services During a Disaster in a State in Which S/he is Not Licensed?
That depends entirely upon the state in which the disaster happens. Texas does allow out of state veterinarians to offer services during a state of disaster but requires registration through the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical examiners and a temporary emergency license. Once granted, this license expires 120 days after its issue date, or sooner if an end of disaster declaration is issued. Emergency licenses are available ONLY during a Governor declared state of disaster.
Louisiana does not allow veterinarians registered out of state to assist during a disaster period.
How do I apply for a temporary emergency license in Texas?
Visit https://www.veterinary.texas.gov to register for a license. The application must be mailed, hand-delivered, emailed, or faxed to:
- TEXAS STATE BOARD OF VETERINARY MEDICAL EXAMINERS – 333 Guadalupe Street, Suite 3-810, Austin, TX 78701
- Fax: (512) 305-7556
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Upon receipt of the application and after verification of licensure and standing in the state through which you seek this temporary emergency license, a license will be issued to you. Outside Texas, before volunteering or making arrangements to travel to a disaster location, veterinarians should check state laws in the relevant state. A good place to start is with each individual state board of medical examiners.
Veterinary State Board Websites
All subsequent sections presume that a veterinarian has obtained an emergency license to practice from the state in which he/she is practicing if different than the state in which he/she is originally licensed.
General information for veterinarians:
The AVMA has a detailed Disaster Preparedness and Response Guide at: http://www.avma.org/disaster
It includes a document about the Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMATs), which were in fact sent into the hurricane-devastated area. VMATs are funded through the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF), which is a 501(c)(3). The AVMA contributes to this foundation. Once VMATs respond to a disaster, their people who are participating become employees of FEMA.
B. Issues Surrounding Veterinary Duties:
1. DEA Compliance
The Drug Enforcement Administration, Diversion Control Division, has established the link below for assistance by DEA Registrants with Domestic (or International) disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and typhoons.
Drug Enforcement Administration Disaster Relief Regulation
Requests for DEA (Federal) assistance involving, but not limited to, the relocation of your DEA registered address to a new location; the approval of a new address to dispense controlled substances; the destruction of controlled substances which have been damaged due to the disaster; questions concerning the destruction of damaged controlled substance inventory; a list of Reverse Distributors who can assist with the destruction of damaged controlled substances; assistance with obtaining controlled substances from a wholesaler; the transfer of an existing DEA registration number from an out of state location to the state where the disaster has occurred; etc., may be relayed through this website 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
To expedite your request, please e-mail the following specific information to:
E-mail subject line: Domestic Request (or International Request)
Your Existing DEA Registration Number
Telephone number where we can speak with you directly
Specific and detailed information which describes what exact type of assistance you will need from the DEA must be included in the body of the e-mail.
The State of Texas requires all out of state medical health professionals not affiliated with a hospital (Physicians, Mid-Level Practitioners, Veterinarians, etc.) who wish to provide assistance during Hurricane Harvey to possess a temporary professional license number. You must secure this number first before the DEA can assist you with your questions about your DEA registration. Please provide this information before you seek this assistance.
For more information on applying for a Temporary License from the State of Texas please see:
Please bring a copy of your DEA Controlled Substance Registration. It must be available for inspection or review by The Texas veterinary Board of Medical Examiners or law enforcement personnel.
A DEA Controlled Substances Registration is required to:
- Prescribe Controlled Substances
- Dispense Controlled Substances
- Deliver Controlled Substances 2. Veterinarian Supervision of Veterinary Technicians and Lay Volunteers
Who is Legally Responsible for the Acts of Unlicensed Employees Working Under a Veterinarian?
Generally, a veterinarian is responsible for both the licensed and unlicensed personnel under their supervision. Given that the veterinarian/personnel in question in a cohabitated shelter setting are often volunteers, the liability may be somewhat relaxed based on Good Samaritan Laws.
Under §573.11 of the Texas Administrative Code, a veterinarian shall be responsible for any acts a non-veterinarian employee commits within the scope of the employee’s employment. A licensed veterinary technician supervising an unlicensed employee of a veterinarian shall be responsible for any acts committed by that unlicensed employee of a veterinarian related to the practice of veterinary medicine. If a licensed veterinary technician acting under supervision of a veterinarian violates a law, regulation or board rule, both the veterinarian and the licensed veterinary technician are subject to discipline by the Board.
The law is changing to reflect the public move toward protecting first-responders.
As of January 2018, at least three states have enacted laws protecting first responders who provide emergency veterinary services to pets but are not veterinarians, according to the AVMA Division of State Advocacy.
These laws are in Colorado, Ohio, and Maryland. In addition, New York and Wisconsin have legislation pending.
2. Duty to Report: Public Health and Welfare
Does a Veterinarian Have a Duty to Report Disease?
Per USDA APHIS:
An accredited veterinarian shall immediately report to both the Assistant District Director (AD) and the State Animal Health Official all diagnosed or suspected cases of a communicable animal disease for which a APHIS has a control or eradication program in 9 CFR chapter I, and all diagnosed or suspected cases of any animal disease not known to exist in the United States as provided by §71.3(b) of this chapter.
Per Centers For Disease Control, a notifiable disease is any disease that is required by law to be reported to government authorities. The collation of information allows the authorities to monitor the disease, and provides early warning of possible outbreaks.
The Louisiana Health Emergency Powers Act requires vets to report all cases of animals who harbor any illness that may cause a public health emergency to the office of public health.
Does A Veterinarian Have To Report Animal Abuse?
In Texas, suspected animal abuse reporting by a veterinarian is optional, but not required. If a veterinarian, in good faith, reports suspected animal abuse, the veterinarian will have immunity from liability in a civil or criminal action.
Reference: Tex. Occ. Code Ann. §801.3585
Sec. 801.3585. LIABILITY FOR REPORTING ANIMAL CRUELTY; IMMUNITY. A veterinarian who in good faith and in the normal course of business reports to the appropriate governmental entity a suspected incident of animal cruelty under Section 42.09 or42.092, Penal Code, is immune from liability in a civil or criminal action brought against the veterinarian for reporting the incident.
Abandonment is cruelty in Texas. Per Section 42.09 “Cruelty to Livestock Animals” and 42.092 “Cruelty of Non-Livestock Animals” of the Texas Penal Code prohibits a person from intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cruelly treating an animal.
This includes abandoning an animal.
Abandonment per statute: abandoning an animal in the person’s custody without making reasonable arrangements for assumption of custody by another person.
C. Veterinarian Liability:
How Does Volunteering In Disaster Relief Change The Duties Of Veterinarians?
A disaster situation does not change the duties of a veterinarian. A veterinarian must always employ the same reasonable skill, diligence, and attention as ordinarily expected of a careful, skillful, and reputable persons engaged in veterinary medicine.
What Is A Veterinarian’s Liability When Volunteering In Disaster Relief?
Veterinarians are not liable for damages to an animal (up to and including euthanasia) except in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct.
Tex. Occ. Code Ann. §801.358
Louisiana does have a Good Samaritan Law found at La. R.S. § 37:1731(C), that would arguably shield from liability any emergency procedures performed in good faith.
Can a Veterinarian Issue Treatment Directions To Non-Veterinarians By Electronic or Telephonic Communication (rather than face-to-face)?
Yes, treatment such as this is permitted in only an emergency situation where prompt treatment is essential for the prevention of death or alleviation of extreme suffering. This treatment may after determining the nature of the emergency and the condition of the animal, issue treatment directions to a non-veterinarian by means of telephone, electronic mail or messaging, radio, or facsimile communication. However, the Board may take action against a veterinarian if, in the Board’s sole discretion, the veterinarian uses this authorization to circumvent this rule.
Reference: Texas Administrative Code §573.10(j)
What Is a Veterinarian’s Liability When Issuing Treatment Directions to Non-Veterinarians by Means Of Electronic/Telephonic Communication?
The veterinarian assumes full responsibility for such treatment. However, nothing in this rule requires a veterinarian to accept an animal treated under this rule as a patient under these circumstances.
Reference: Texas Administrative Code §573.10(j)
Who Decides Which Duties are Performed by Non-Licensed Personnel?
Generally speaking, in a medical situation, the person in charge will be the licensed veterinarian.
Texas Admin Code §573.10 speaks to veterinarians being responsible for deciding which member of a veterinary response team performs which function and is reflective of other state codes as well.
“A veterinarian shall determine when general, direct, or immediate supervision of a non-veterinarian’s actions is appropriate, except where such actions of the non-veterinarian may otherwise be prohibited by law. A veterinarian shall consider whether the individual is licensed by the Board, as well as the level of training and experience of the non-veterinarian, when determining the level of supervision and duties of non-veterinarian.”
Texas Admin Code §§573.10
III. Responding Animal Shelter Agency
A. Animal Shelter Qualifications: Overview
Disaster response doesn’t have to be the primary mission of responding agency but the following are recommended:
A history of successful operation of a brick and mortar shelter and existing medical, handling, staff, volunteer, admin recordkeeping protocols.
An ability to gather volunteers and staff for deployment quickly and in sizeable numbers.
An ability to immediately supply some materials/resources (crates, food, medical, etc) either through the agency or agency donors.
An ongoing, positive relationship with City, Parish and animal control and willingness to work closely alongside each.
There is Precedent for Cohabited Shelters Working Extremely Well
Friends For Life Directs First Cohabitated Shelter August-September 2017, Houston.
On August 27, 2017 Friends For Life was asked by City of Houston representatives to lead the animal response at the largest evacuation center in Houston located at the George R. Brown Convention Center Mega Shelter (GRB.)
This was the first time in Texas that disaster evacuees were housed in a cohabitated shelter (they were allowed to keep their pets with them in their living quarters) and the first time in U.S. history that a cohabitated shelter had been pre-approved by a City and carried out in a Mega Shelter in a major U.S. city. The GRB Mega Shelter would ultimately house, feed, treat over 8,000 evacuees during Hurricane Harvey and after.
By The Numbers
The Friends For Life team received, triaged, outfitted, registered, medicated, decontaminated, vaccinated and safely housed 671 animals with families in the first 24 hours of the cohabitated shelter and 1500 by the end of the GRB shelters admissions two weeks later.
Hundreds of veterinarians flew in at our request and on their own initiative from all over the country to assist with shifts. Thousands of pounds of food, litter were distributed to evacuees. Over 1,000 animal crates were given to evacuees for their animals. 6,000 animal vaccines were given. After flood waters cleared, some Houstonians returned to their homes to retrieve animals that had been left and bring them in for free veterinary care at GRB. For most of the animals at the GRB, seeing the FFL veterinary team was the only time in their lives they had seen a veterinarian.
The results of this first ever cohabitated shelter were unanimously praised by the City of Houston (BARC) Animal Control, FEMA representatives, National Guard representatives, the Red Cross, representatives of the Texas Health Department. Friends For Life also received a proclamation from Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office for the management of the animal response.
The facility was orderly, clean and quiet. The fears about potential chaos in a cohabitated shelter never came to pass. People cared for their animals, bedded down with them at night, maintained control of them and helped keep the facility clean.
Evacuees were fitted with plastic hospital bands on admission bearing an “A” number on day one, a “B” number on day two and so on. The corresponding numbered bands were placed on every member of the family, the pet as well as the kennel sent with the animal. The toolkit outlines registration techniques that the Louisiana team recommends.
The data we collected at GRB in Houston was entered into a searchable electronic database real time. Our reunification rate was almost 100% because we did not separate people from pets. The only outlier was one loose stray chicken we named Ginger who ultimately found a home.
B. Animal Shelter Agency Duties:
Many of the specifics, forms and best practices may be found in this toolkit. In this section, we will speak only the broad constructs of the relationships that the managing agency should be prepared to encounter. Each jurisdiction will differ slightly and this list of duties and relationships is intended to serve only as a checklist.
1. An Animal Agency Should Maintain Relationships With:
a. Red Cross (RC): is frequently the agency that is managing the human dormitories and will be supplying human needs in the cohabitated setting. In some settings, RC can also provide volunteers for the animal agency. We recommend identifying the local RC representative and establishing a plan for disaster response.
b. Private Venue owners: The owners will be motivated by preservation of their property and it is in the interest of all parties for the responding agency to be sensitive and attentive to animals’ impact on the property.
c. Local Animal Control: It is not necessary that the agency in control of the response be Animal Control but it is important to have a relationship with the local Animal Control agency. They will have the authority to seize animals, issue citations and enforce statutes related to animals should that need arise.
d. Law Enforcement: Working closely with the local law enforcement is a must. They will provide the ability to manage entry into the facility, eject anyone causing trouble, address domestic violence issues and provide a level of security for shelter staff/volunteers who will be based in an area that will contain drugs and syringes.
e. Staff: While the RC can provide some volunteers depending upon the situation, an agency must not come to the event relying on any staff/volunteer resources except those that they can provide. It is incumbent upon the animal agency to provide trained staff and volunteers (both licensed and unlicensed) for the management of the animal area. Being in a disaster situation never trumps the prohibition against someone without a license practicing veterinary medicine.
f. Veterinary Medical Examiners Board of the State : This agency, named slightly differently in each state, regulates the conduct of veterinarians.
g. National Guard: Depending upon the level of disaster, the National Guard will be mobilized. They are a source of assistance and animal agencies should seek out National Guard leadership early on and open a dialogue.
2. Manage Donations: Details of forms methods available in the toolkit
3. Provide Staff and Volunteers: An animal shelter agency must clearly define volunteer and staff roles and responsibilities in times of disaster, and ensure participants receive the training they need to be successful.
4. Create SOP for Shelter Management: See toolkit for best practices/forms
5. Keep Records: Including clients and animals registered as well as veterinary records
C. Animal Agency Liability:
The most common issue that will arise is that of ownership.
The agency is in the position of providing care for owned animals. It is important that the agency execute permission/treatment waiver forms (found in the toolkit) and stress to every member of the team that the animals that come through the cohabitated shelter are almost all owned animals. All treatment, medication and intervention must be with the permission of the owner. Treating veterinarians are required to establish a veterinary/client relationship. The agency is not the client.
Strays should be processed by the local animal control agency (City of Houston is BARC) and all regulations regarding stray hold, quarantine must be followed.
Emergency: Veterinarians may administer life-saving treatment to animals. General principle (language in statues varies state-to-state): A licensed veterinarian who in good faith engages in the practice of veterinary medicine by rendering or attempting to render emergency care to a patient when a client cannot be identified and a veterinarian-client-patient relationship is not established is not subject to any disciplinary sanctions.
Louisiana: The Good Samaritan Law reads that state licensed vets who in good faith provide emergency services to an animal at the scene of an emergency shall not be liable for damages for providing, or failing to provide, for the emergency care or arrangement of further vet medical treatment. See La. R.S. § 37:1731(C).
Owner is ejected from the cohabitated area and arrested: In conjunction with local animal control the animal shall either be remanded to the custody of local animal control or depending upon the conditions of the disaster, held in the custody of the animal agency until other arrangement can be made. If kept with the agency, at that time the agency veterinary staff shall have rights to treat the animal as dictated by best practices relating to animal health and public health.
What is a Volunteer?
The term ‘‘volunteer’’ means an individual performing services for a nonprofit organization or a governmental entity who does not receive— (A) compensation (other than reasonable reimbursement or allowance for expenses actually incurred); or (B) any other thing of value in lieu of compensation, in excess of $500 per year, and such term includes a volunteer serving as a director, officer, trustee, or direct service volunteer.
(Volunteer Protection Act of 1997)
2. Volunteer Legal Issues:
What Is My Liability As A Volunteer?
Volunteers providing disaster assistance are protected from liability by federal law. The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 provides protections for volunteers. This law states that a volunteer is not liable as long as the volunteer is:
a. Acting within the scope of the volunteer’s responsibilities for a nonprofit or government entity;
b. Properly licensed if appropriate;
c. Not causing a harm by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by the volunteer; and
d. Not causing the harm by operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft.
An individual who provides volunteer services, within the scope of the individual’s duties for a charitable organization, will not be held legally responsible for acting or failing to act. They can be held legally responsible if acting with extreme carelessness or with intent to cause harm. The individual can be held legally responsible if injury, death, or damage to property is caused by the individual’s operation of a motor vehicle. Charitable Volunteer in Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 84.004(a)
What Happens If I Accidentally Injure An Animal While Volunteering?
Individual volunteers are protected under both state and federal law during an emergency or disaster from criminal and civil (private) consequences as long as the person’s behavior was not ‘willful misconduct,’ ‘gross negligence,’ or ‘criminal’ violation of civil rights.
E. Animal Bites, Owner Liability
What Happens If An Animal Bites Another Person In The Shelter?
If the owner is responsible for the care and control of his/her animal within shelter, and that animal bites another evacuee while under the supervision or responsibility of the owner, the owner may be liable for negligent handling of an animal. The owner may also be liable for negligence per se for violating a leash law.
In a cohabitated situation, the animal agency provides the owners with information about their responsibilities, equips the owners with animal handling tools (leashes, collars, creates) and if needed assists the owners with animal handling to facilitate safe movement in the shelter area.
To recover on a claim of negligent handling of an animal, a plaintiff must prove:
The defendant was the owner of possessor of an animal;
The defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring others;
The defendant breached that duty; and
The defendant’s breach proximately cause the plaintiff’s injury. “Unlike for strict liability, the plaintiff does not have to prove that the animal was vicious or dangerous.”
What Are The Rights Under Texas Law To Sue The Owner Of A Dog Who Has Bitten A Person?
In Texas, it is a Class C misdemeanor if a dog makes an unprovoked attack on another person outside the dog’s enclosure and causes bodily injury to the other person. In addition, if the attack causes serious bodily injury or death to that person, the owner of the dangerous dog may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. If found guilty by a court of law the owner of the dangerous dog may be ordered to destroy the dog and pay a fine up to $10,000.
It is imperative that evacuees are properly notified of their responsibilities and potential liabilities regarding the care and control of their animals. The toolkit provides admission forms and guidelines for conversations about the responsibilities of the evacuee owners.
In practice, this is the particular genius of the cohabitated shelter model. The owners maintain control of their animals and the agency provides the tool, ie, leashes, collars, crates, pens. We safely housed 1500 families with pets in Houston in one space.
What If an Evacuee Left Animal(s) At Home During Evacuation?
Advice to give the evacuee:
If you have left an animal at home you should, as soon as possible, contact any rescue official or the animal agency in charge and explain where the animal is located. In this case the risk to human life should be evaluated and if deemed insignificant, animal rescues should be conducted under the direct supervision of trained emergency response and animal care personnel. These people can determine if an animal is amenable to evacuation without delay or risk of injury.
The animal agency should have a reporting system in place to facilitate communication with rescuers on the ground to notify responders of the left-behind pets.