That no longer is necessary, said Pete Golden, Emergency Operations coordinator for the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness at the University of Georgia.
"People won't leave their pets, so a lot of times they will refuse to leave their home and ... put themselves at risk," Golden said.
To help, OSEP combined efforts with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the UGA Community Emergency Response Team and the College of Veterinary Medicine to create a safe haven for people in need of shelter and their pets.
Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act in 2006, which requires states to account for pets and service animals in times of disaster. If a hurricane hit the Georgia Coast tomorrow, as many as 250 evacuees could be housed at the Ramsey Center while their pets could go about 5 miles away to the UGA Livestock Instructional Arena on South Milledge Avenue.
The Ramsey Center, which is a Red Cross-approved shelter, would first register people into the facility. Once an evacuee is registered, they can then bring their paperwork to the arena along with their pets.
In the lobby, animals will be registered at the Livestock Center and undergo a medical-intake evaluation by the veterinary college. A triage area will also be set-up for animals in need of medical assistance or quarantine.
All cats will be housed in the indoor space, which is climate controlled.
"Some dogs are heat intolerant, like a bulldog, so they would be in there, too," Golden said.
Cats and dogs that need special care would be housed together, but there is ample space to allow for both, he said.
The group coordinating the effort recently held a trial registration using stuffed toys in place of live animals. The shelter was opened and all the necessary equipment brought out.
"And we ... ran the (stuffed animals) through registration, sent them to the vet with triage and all animals had a card with details about their individual case on them," Golden said.
A short time later, the group practiced a take-down of the shelter.
"We learned a lot about ways to speed up the registration process; some of the logistics of the building," said Golden.
Although the arena is large enough to house more than 1,000 animals, there has been a limit set based on the amount of workers and volunteers available to accommodate displaced animals. There is no limit on how many animals per person can be accepted.
"This is not a hard-fast number either," Golden said. "We won't just cut it off. If we can handle it, we will take them."
No reptiles, birds, livestock or horses will be accepted. Cats, dogs and pocket pets only.
Every animal that is registered at the facility will have a sheet on the front of its crate documenting each time the animal is fed, watered, walked or its crate cleaned. Owners will be encouraged to come care for their pets, but if it's not possible, volunteers will take care of the animals.
Any pet abandoned will be turned over to animal control.
Animals deemed vicious will not be permitted into the facility.
FEMA would reimburse all fees, including food for the animals, shots, supplies and damages incurred during the event.
"We are one of maybe two places in the state, and probably the only one who has gone so far as practicing for a disaster," said Golden. "It's been a collaborative process and I think we all work very well together. The community is fortunate that there is a lot of expertise to do this."