The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is providing emergency assistance in caring for animals – livestock and domesticated – in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. APHIS is working to aid producers and positioning staff in key areas in Texas and Louisiana where flooding may cause further damage. In addition, APHIS is helping to meet the emergency needs of pets and their owners, as inspectors are coordinating closely with zoos, breeders, and other licensed facilities in the region to ensure the safety of animals in their care.
“APHIS has a long history of providing emergency support in the wake of hurricanes and other natural disasters to help producers as well as members of the public and their pets,” said Kevin Shea, Acting Under Secretary for USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs. “While we always hope our services will not be needed, we have a trained cadre of first responders who stand ready to support our partners on the ground and assist local communities in times of crisis.”
On the livestock front, APHIS veterinarians are working alongside the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) to conduct on-site assessments to document the needs of producers whose ranches were in the path of the storm. All needs assessments are being shared directly with the joint State-Federal Emergency Operations Center for tasking in order to provide prompt assistance. Information about protecting household pets and service animals can be found on APHIS’ Animal Care Emergency Programs webpage.
Because rain is expected to continue in the region for the next several days, APHIS has additional staff on stand-by to provide support should the situation escalate and affect more livestock operations. In addition to man power, APHIS has boats and aircraft that are fueled and ready to assist not only with evacuations of people and their pets but also to help deliver food and other supplies to stranded livestock to ensure their welfare until flood waters recede. Should it be necessary in the coming days, APHIS has the expertise to assist with carcass removal and disposal as well.
APHIS and TAHC also have a joint cattle fever tick eradication program in south Texas with the quarantine area extending more than 500 miles from Del Rio to the Gulf of Mexico. While anticipated rain and flooding have not yet occurred in this region, APHIS is proactively assisting producers by conducting inspections and issuing permits to allow for the relocation of their livestock to safer grounds should it be necessary in the days ahead. In the absence of significant rainfall, APHIS plans to resume normal operations to prevent the spread of the fever tick outside the quarantine zone.
APHIS’ Animal Care program, which oversees the welfare of certain animals that are exhibited to the public, bred for commercial sale and used in medical research, is also actively involved in the hurricane response effort. In addition to providing technical assistance to local regulated facilities to help them prepare for potential hurricane damage and flooding, AC inspectors are now checking those facilities that were in the path of the storm to assess damage and ensure the welfare of their animals.
In addition, APHIS is charged with providing technical assistance and subject-matter expertise on the safety and well-being of household pets during disasters. The Agency serves as a critical connector between State and Federal responders and the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition, established in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as well as non-governmental and private organizations that have vital resources to contribute in an emergency. APHIS currently has staff deployed to emergency operations centers in both Texas and Louisiana and has already helped make available 25 tons of pet food that is en route to meet immediate needs in affected areas and ensure additional food is available as necessary. APHIS is also actively participating in federal feeding, sheltering, and housing task forces that have been established in order to provide pet-related expertise and logistical support in keeping with our commitment to preserve the human-animal bond when disaster strikes.