Is Santa Cruz Ready for 'the Big One'? Are Your Pets?

Santa Cruz's disaster plan for pets is something of a disaster.


Sitting at dinner the other night, the earth moved—no, the food was not orgasmic; we had a 4.8 earthquake, and it reminded me that if the “Big One” hits, I’m not sure what would happen to my pets.

Is there a comprehensive disaster plan for my pets in the county? Have I done what I can to care for my pets in case of forest fire or earthquake? Do I have enough pet food and water in case of emergency? How would I evacuate them if I was at work? My horses and goats don’t fit in a crate; how do I evacuate them? If my pets got evacuated without me, how would I find them? 

Yeah, sure, I’ll worry about it later. Too much to read all this now. I’ll just call Animal Services when it happens.

Here was my first dilemma. Animal Services does not answer its phone, because they are so busy (and there is no emergency today). In a disaster, it is unlikely you will have Internet service, but Animal Services’ website only has links to other sites, nothing about what THEY will do or where I should look for my pet.

So who do I call? Who’s in charge of animals in case of a disaster?

Who would I call?

Santa Cruz County Office of Emergency Services (OES)

Its phone message says that in an emergency, you should call 911 or 211 for info (I called and they had no info on this subject, but would have someone call me back next week). The website has no info on this, either, and the online “Emergency Preparedness Guide” does not mention pets at all.

Santa Cruz County Animal Services

I would think it is part of the responsibility of SCCAS to be in charge of rescue and reuniting efforts during a disaster, but I could not get a hold of anyone, and the website tells me nothing. 

I’m starting to get frustrated.

Red Cross of Santa Cruz

Patsy H. Gasca told me there is a plan in place and that it has been tested and it worked. She suggested I call OES.

Sigh. I’m getting no real answers that would help if this were a real emergency.

I called the Capitola Police Department’s non-emergency number, and a very nice woman told me she was not aware of any master disaster plan for pets, but reminded me to have ID on my pets so they could be returned to me. Watsonville police was also unaware and referred me to OES, the Office of Emergency Services. 

Santa Cruz SPCA

Lisa Carter, director of the SPCA, says the SPCA has hundreds of crates ready and is here to assist any rescue efforts. Also, the SPCA hands out free emergency name tags for your pets to be used AFTER a disaster to update your pet’s ID on how to get a hold of you (since your home address or phone may no longer be valid). Drop by and pick one up for your pet emergency kit.

The SPCA website has lots of great info on how you can prepare:


CAPE (Center for Animal Protection and Education)

CAPE volunteers have trucks and trailers on call to help evacuate horses and other domestic critters. Last May, during forest fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains, CAPE evacuated dogs, cats, chickens and goats by request of SC Animal Services.

Santa Cruz County Equine Evacuation Unit (part of OES)

In 2008, during the Martin, the Trabing in the South County and Summit fires, this unit of more than 200 volunteers evacuated over 500 horses. If you have been ordered or advised to evacuate, they say you can call 831-454-7303 to arrange for your horses or livestock to be evacuated.



What plan does Santa Cruz County have?

There isn’t one that is easily found, so really, in my mind there doesn’t seem to be one that counts. Right now, it is up to YOU to take care of your pets.

Did we learn any lessons in the Trabing Fire?

The Trabing Fire in 2008 broke out at 2 p.m. on a week day while most people were at work and could not reach their homes in time to save their animals. Another big problem was that animal rescuers are volunteers. Their vehicles are not emergency vehicles, so they were stuck in traffic. By the time they reached the fire zone, it was too late for many of the animals.

Even after the animals are rescued, some have burns and most are traumatized. What “after fire” services do we have?


In 2006, Congress signed into law the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act that requires emergency preparedness personnel to include plans and accommodations for household pets or they could lose their disaster relief funds.

There are special funds available to build emergency co-housing shelters, acquire crates, leashes and other necessities. Did Santa Cruz apply or receive any of those funds? Are we in danger of losing disaster relief funds if we are not in compliance with the law? 

Recent legislation, SB 702, requires shelters to chip all animals. Chipping would help to identify who an animal belongs to if it is lost or rescued. SB 702 was delivered to Gov. Jerry Brown on August 30.

No easy  answers locally

So there are lots of questions and very few answers to be found easily. Whatever plan there is in this county, is not obvious and cannot be found online or with one phone call. If I can’t find the answer when there is no disaster, how will YOU find the answer when the “Big One” hits?

Pet owners should be pushing to get answers, after all, our pets do not have a voice in all this. WE are their voice.

Next week's column, what can YOU do for your pets in an emergency?


Paw-Di-Cure Fundraiser

Scientists have just announced they have discovered the cause of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Now let your dollars help find a cure.

FREE NAIL TRIMS (with donation to ALS)

Bed and Biscuits/ Groomingdales will be offering pet owners the opportunity for free nail trims with a donation to the ALS Association in a Paw-Di-Cure Benefit.

Now to Sept. 12
Monday – Friday 10 a.m. -4 p.m  and Saturdays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Bed and Biscuits

2341 17th Ave., in Santa Cruz.


Project Purr Rummage Sale!

Sept. 9-11

Corner of Soquel and Thurber Lane

This is the BEST rummage sale in town. You don’t want to miss this. Proceeds go to free spay/neuter of feral cats.

Project Purr FREE Spay/Neuter of Feral Cats

Month of September


Eighty percent of kittens born in the county are feral! You can help! Just trap feral cats (Animal Services has traps you can borrow for free) and Project Purr will pay for the spay/neuter.


An Evening with Ingrid Newkirk, president & co-founder of PETA

Sept. 26 · 7-9 p.m.

Hilton Hotel, Scotts Valley

Tickets: $20/$10 ingridnewkirk.eventbrite.com/


Ingrid Newkirk and Kim Sturla, founder and director of Animal Place, will have a lively interview/discussion on current animal issues in the world today, then a Q & A session. Also includes a delicious vegan dessert. Proceeds benefit the many programs at CAPE.


World Famous Popovich Comedy Pet Theater

Oct. 13 · 7-10 p.m.

The Rio Theater


The World Famous Popovich Comedy Pet Theatre is coming to Santa Cruz, and best of all, it will help raise much needed funds for our only local non-profit no-kill animal shelter —the Santa Cruz SPCA!

This show is too amazing. For more info:santacruzspca.org/popovich.html

Tickets: brownpapertickets.com/event/id1/191211/01astounding.
A percentage of the profits from tickets sales made through the link below will be donated to the Santa Cruz SPCA! Please note that ONLY tickets purchased using this link will benefit the animals of the Santa Cruz SPCA.


Adults: $23
Children under 12: $16
Tickets will NOT be sold at the door so get them online while they last!

Check out a clip on YouTube!

The World Famous Popovich Comedy Pet Theatre features an amazing cast of housecats, dogs, parrots even geese and mice! A unique blend of comedy, world-champion juggling, and the extraordinary talents of more than 30 performing pets that were rescued from shelters all over the country!

Marguerite MacDonald September 06, 2011 at 06:21 PM
Whitney, you sure provided a wealth of information and it's scary thinking about what would happen to my animals in an emergency. A few of my feral cats aren't chipped and I would have to way of stopping them from running as they are still easily spooked. My dog is no problem, she is a velcro type and as long as I am home she is tiny enough to go with me. This article will resonate with a lot of pet owners - thank you again for writing it.


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