AKC Pet Disaster Relief Trailers Help Pets in Emergencies

This AKC Reunite program helps local emergency management agencies to provide care for dogs, cats and people during disasters.

By Cassandra Radcliff | Posted: September 17, 2014 2 p.m.

Disaster Relief Trailer
The Cecil County Department of Emergency Services can provide emergency assistance to pets and people with its new Pet Disaster Relief trailer. Photo courtesy AKC.

On May 6, Northeastern Maryland Kennel Club’s Mary Lou Olszewski handed a set of keys to local County Executive Tari Moore. Members of NMKC met with the Cecil County Department of Emergency to present an AKC Pet Disaster Relief Trailer in a ceremony that included the transfer of the keys, inspection and tour of the new trailer, refreshments and even a cake depicting the image of the trailer.

Olszewski said that she and her club wanted to donate an emergency-response trailer to the local community because the area is at risk for flooding and other potential disasters. "We were supposed to take a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy,” she says. "We felt the wrath of this huge storm, but it really devastated the New Jersey and New York shorelines. The AKC Reunite Disaster Relief Trailers would have definitely made a difference had they been available.”

The custom-configured 16-foot trailers can be used by local emergency management agencies to provide care to companion animals during the first 72 hours after a disaster — the critical time before FEMA support arrives. The towable trailers are stocked with essential, nonperishable items that can be used to provide temporary shelter for up to 65 lost and found pets, or for cats and dogs in a co-location shelter, a place where both displaced people and their pets can stay safe during or after a disaster.


Implementing an Idea

Tom Sharp Disaster Trailer
AKC Reunite CEO Tom Sharp speaks at a Pet Disaster Relief trailer dedication in Pamlico County, N.C. Photo courtesy AKC.

The idea to donate emergency trailers for pet care first came about in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. AKC Reunite talked with the state of North Carolina (where AKC Reunite headquarters is located), and then contributed money to supply two fully stocked emergency trailers for future disasters. On June 9, 2013, about two weeks after the tornadoes in Moore, Okla., AKC delegates and AKC Reunite staff met in Raleigh, N.C., to discuss a comprehensive plan for donating emergency trailers to agencies all over the United States. A task force was created, co-chaired by Pat Laurans, German Wirehaired Pointer Club of America Delegate, and AKC Reunite CEO Tom Sharp.

Since the AKC Pet Disaster Relief Trailer project began in September of last year, six trailers have been donated, each made possible by donations and grants made mostly by dog clubs and AKC Reunite. There are now emergency-response trailers in Pamlico County, N.C., Cleveland-Bradley, Tenn., Cecil County, Md., Harford County, Md., Lexington, Ky., and Boone County, Mo.

"In the eight months since the start of this program, we have had a tremendous response,” Co-Chair Pat Laurans says. "The total raised in this eight-month period of time is $557,000.” She thanks all the clubs that participated, AKC Humane Fund, Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, AKC Reunite (especially Tom Sharp and Dallas Harsa) and all the AKC Pet Disaster Relief Task Force members for working hard to make this program a success.

And they’re not going to stop at six trailers: The goal is to eventually have at least one trailer in every state.


Pitching Preparedness

After Hurricane Katrina, several laws, including the Federal PETS Act of 2006, were passed to require local emergency management to be prepared to care for people and their pets immediately following a disaster. Your club can help your local community reach these new requirements with the AKC Pet Disaster Relief Trailer project. And even if you think your community is prepared to help pets in a disaster, check with your local emergency management services. Pamlico County, N.C., the recipient of the first AKC Pet Disaster Relief Trailer in 2013, previously did not have access to a trailer — even though North Carolina had 40 emergency trailers throughout the state.

After contacting your local emergency agency and learning that a trailer is needed, pitch the idea to your local club. If both agree to participate, submit a grant application and a signed agreement to AKC Reunite, register your organization and start fundraising! It costs $22,000 to purchase, configure and fill each trailer. Local clubs raise $12,000, national and regional funds (such as Parent Clubs) donate $7,500, and AKC Reunite supplies the remaining $2,500. After all the money is put together, the fully stocked trailer is delivered to the designated emergency agency within 30 to 90 days.

Raising $12,000 might seem daunting, but take note that Mary Lou Olszewski, who spearheaded the project in Cecil County, Md., helped raise money for two trailers in her area, one for Cecil County and another for Harford County. While the AKC initially expected dog clubs to raise all the money, Olszewski took a different approach. "I approached the local emergency management officials and suggested fundraising as a joint effort,” she says. "We could work together to pool our funds. This was critical to me since I had approached two counties, and now both wanted a trailer sooner [rather than] later.”

AKC Pet Disaster Relief Task Force Co-Chair Pat Laurans suggests promoting the idea to the general public as well. "AKC Pet Disaster Relief is a community program that many animal-loving businesses and citizens will relate to and want to rally around and support,” she says. "Don’t hesitate to promote the program with the general public; it will only help build positive recognition of your club and its good works.”


Showing the Community Your Club Cares

Olszewski AKC Trailer Keys
Mary Lou Olszewski of the Northeastern Maryland Kennel Club hands a set of keys to local County Executive Tari Moore. Olszewski spearheaded the initiative to get two AKC Pet Disaster Relief trailers in her local area. Photo courtesy AKC.

Helping to donate an emergency trailer demonstrates your club’s and AKC’s commitment to all companion animals. "It is a tremendous way to give back to our communities,” says Mary Lou Olszewski. "The Northeastern Maryland Kennel Club, AKC Reunite and the American Kennel Club now have a platform that says we care, and we do.”

Money can be raised and donated by AKC clubs of all kinds: parent, local specialty, all-breed, agility, performance and obedience clubs. Individual and corporate donations are equally welcomed. Any approved organization that raises more than $1,000 can have its logo featured on the trailer. The amount donated impacts the size of the logo and whether it appears on one or both sides of the trailer. National clubs can split their donations among multiple trailers so they can get maximum national exposure.

Pat Laurans says that she sees these trailers as billboards for the good works of the AKC, AKC Clubs and AKC Reunite. "AKC Pet Disaster Relief will help clubs build meaningful relationships with their local community leaders, garnering very positive visibility and support.”

That positive visibility doesn’t just come after a disaster. The trailers are required to be showcased at least twice a year at county fairs, parades and other community events to promote disaster preparedness — where many people will see the AKC Reunite and club logos. And club members can continually serve their communities by training to become first responders when animals are displaced in an emergency.

AKC Runite CEO Tom Sharp says, "As trailers are rolled out to communities across the country, the clubs, the fanciers, AKC Reunite and AKC get great press coverage of this very positive, proactive effort. Clubs are getting to know their local emergency management and other local officials, and those officials are seeing the AKC clubs, their members and AKC as a force for good in their community. As these local efforts multiply across the country, we are building strong, grass roots support for our efforts to help people and their pets in times of crisis.”

More information about the AKC Pet Disaster Relief Trailer project and all program forms can be found at akcreunite.org/relief. You can also contact AKC Reunite at relief@akcreunite.org or 919-816-3980. In addition to trailers, the AKC Reunite Canine Support and Relief Fund can provide resources, support and other assistance to nonprofit animal shelters and similar organizations during natural or civil disasters. If you are ever aware of specific needs for disaster relief for companion animals in your area, please contact AKC Reunite.


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