LONDONDERRY — During the December 2008 ice storm that left the area in the dark for well over a week, many residents found themselves torn between seeking out their own safety or keeping watch over their four-legged friends.
Residents from Londonderry, Derry, Litchfield and surrounding towns all had the option of bunking down at the regional shelter set up in the Londonderry High School gymnasium, but emergency officials soon learned that a number of citizens opted to stay home after finding out the shelter wouldn’t allow them to bring pets.
“Mostly, people tend to stay at home with their animals or they leave their animals in their cars when they come inside the shelter,” said Suzanne Roy of the Londonderry Fire Department. “Neither of those options is very safe.”
Fortunately, local pet owners will have a better option in time for the winter storm season, emergency officials said this week.
During Monday night’s Town Council meeting, Roy and Acting Fire Chief Darren O’Brien shared plans to extend the town’s emergency shelter services to local pets starting this winter.
Roy said she’s been working toward the plan over the past several years, noting the solution hasn’t been an easy one since the town’s emergency shelter is inside a public school building.
“We’ve been talking about safety, about addressing the allergens that come with housing animals,” she told the council. “But as long as we can find a company that can handle the cleaning and disinfecting aspects after the shelter closes, this shouldn’t be an issue.”
With the council’s blessings, plans for the pet shelter are moving forward.O’Brien said he’s currently meeting with several area companies to find the best match, and the fire department is also seeking community volunteers to help out at the pet shelter.Members of A Londonderry Emergency Response Team (ALERT) and American Red Cross volunteers typically assist at the town’s emergency shelter, but O’Brien said they “tend to have their hands full already.”
“They do a great job with the human aspects, and we’d hate to overburden them,” he said.
The high school gymnasium would work well to house animals during an emergency, Roy said, since the building has a separate entrance for the downstairs locker rooms — the area where pets will be housed. The shelter’s human occupants would continue to eat and sleep upstairs inside the gymnasium and foyer area, separate from the animals.
All pets staying at the shelter would need to be vaccinated and crated, and separate areas would be set up for dogs, cats and exotic pets, such as birds and reptiles, officials said.
“We’re also trying to arrange for an isolation area for the pets that are sick, injured or don’t have proof of vaccinations,” Roy said. “Either way, the pet owners would be the ones responsible for feeding their pets, walking them and giving them medications.”
Councilor Joe Green said he’s relieved to hear that accommodations are being made for pets since it’s a concern he’s heard often from area seniors in particular.
“This issue comes up again and again,” Green said. “It’s time we address it as this is something the community really needs and wants.”firstname.lastname@example.org