RICHMOND—Research has shown that the No. 1 reason people refuse to evacuate their homes during an emergency is that they don’t want to leave pets behind. “If a hurricane comes and you have to evacuate or a tornado rips through town unexpectedly, what do you do with your animals?” asked Tony Banks, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation commodity marketing specialist and co-chairman of the Virginia State Animal Response Team, or VASART. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd claimed the lives of millions of animals in North Carolina, and thousands of pets and livestock were separated from their owners. Many of the animals could have been saved by a coordinated response plan. Out of this tragedy grew the SART concept. Virginia adopted the concept in 2006, and the VASART is encouraging development of local organizations called Community Animal Response Teams, or CARTs. “Ideally, with CARTs, people are trained to deal with emergency animal issues and can work with local emergency management officials,” Banks said. “We want to empower these local groups, because that takes some of the pressure off of localities’ resources.” The VASART held a meeting July 13 to address some of the stumbling blocks to increasing the number of CARTS. There are currently eight groups in Virginia, and Campbell County could be the next locality to form a team. The VASART was created through a private-public partnership to serve as a unifying network of organizations, businesses, federal and state government agencies and individuals that support prevention, preparedness, response and recovery for emergencies affecting animals. The state and county groups are focused primarily on companion animals but “are starting to put more emphasis on large livestock animals,” Banks said. As part of the teams’ response, trained volunteers will help people find shelter for their pets. “Sixty-seven percent of all households have a pet, and in the event of a disaster where people have to evacuate they’re reluctant to do so without their pets,” Banks said. “We encourage people to make their own arrangements for their animals, but sometimes they aren’t able.” VASART offers the following tips to animal owners. • Create a pet emergency kit that includes a few days’ worth of medicine, your pet’s medical and vaccination records, a leash, collar, identification, water, food, toys and bedding. • Make sure your animals have some form of permanent identification such as a microchip, brand or tattoo. • Purchase a pet carrier, and label it with emergency contact information. • Store water and feed for emergencies. • Create a contingency plan for animals, including horses and livestock, that addresses transportation, water and feed resources and areas for confinement if needed. Contact Banks at 804-290-1114.