WASHINGTON – Congress ordered the nation’s disaster planners Wednesday to make sure that pets don’t get left behind in the next catastrophe.

Reacting to reports of Hurricane Katrina victims refusing to leave New Orleans without their dogs, cats and birds, Congress passed legislation requiring state and local governments to draw up plans for evacuating and sheltering pets in a disaster.

The legislation, which received final congressional approval Wednesday, also gave the Federal Emergency Management Agency the authority to finance shelter renovations to house pets on a temporary basis.

“Our legislation will ensure that families and people with disabilities will never be forced to choose between being rescued and being with pets or service animals,” said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif.

When Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, many evacuation shelters refused to allow pets and some rescuers told flood victims they would have to leave their animals behind. Tens of thousands of animals perished.

Animal advocates say the bill will save human lives, too.

“Surveys show that 50 or 60 percent of people say they wouldn’t evacuate without their pets,” said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. “This isn’t just an animal rescue effort. This is an integral part of any human relief effort, too. People are bound to their pets and refuse to leave.”

Three weeks after Katrina, Lantos and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., filed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in the House.

The bill passed in May and the Senate added a provision in August allowing FEMA to finance shelters to accommodate people with pets and service animals.

The House unanimously gave its blessing Wednesday and the bill will be sent to President Bush.

The Louisiana Legislature approved legislation earlier this year requiring state and local disaster planners to make provisions for “the humane evacuation” of service animals and household pets. It also called for pet shelters to be located adjacent to those for human evacuees and for a pet tracking system so that animals can be reunited with their owners.

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