Keeping Pets and Their Owners Together in a Crisis

In recent years, first responders have become much more appreciated and respected.

Whether law enforcement officers, medical personnel or relief agency workers, they risk their safety to provide prompt and competent help to those needing protection, medical attention, shelter, or food and water.

The beneficiaries of the care and concern exhibited by public servants are frequently those affected by an extreme weather event, fire or other disaster.

But what about the pets these crisis victims own? How can furry friends be cared for when their owners suddenly lose everything?

An Animal Shelter Alternative

That question was the impetus for the creation of Companion Pets in Crisis (CPiC). This non-profit organization based in Phoenix, Arizona was established by Lisa Martin in 2015 to keep pets and families together in times of crisis.

People who lose their home in a fire or other disaster are devastated emotionally and financially.

Sometimes they have nowhere to keep their beloved pets during their recovery process. They believe their only option is to turn them over to an animal shelter where they may not survive due to shelter over-crowding and euthanasia policies.

CPiC was founded on the principle that no one should ever be faced with that decision.

Responding to the Need

Dan Weecks, 27, is the Public Information Officer (PIO) for CPiC. He’s been on the scene immediately following numerous house fires, doing what he can to make sure people are able to keep their pets despite the emergency.

“Lisa was a crisis responder for the City of Glendale (Arizona), so she is a genuine, good-hearted social worker,” Dan said. “She worked with the fire department, seeing at-risk and underserved populations that had to keep abandoning their pets.

“Victims already had daily struggles in life, recently worsened by the COVID pandemic and job insecurity. Now all of a sudden they have no home or clothes. Everything is burned. Maybe they don’t have insurance and maybe they have three dogs to deal with.

“They have to put their pets on the back burner because of their kids, jobs and recovery. This was the trend she was seeing even before COVID. So she started this nonprofit and has been the only one running it full time ever since." 

On the Scene Quickly

CPiC is the only resource its local fire departments and the American Red Cross rely on to assist first responders with 911 crisis calls involving pets. Besides Martin, current 2020 board members are Preston McGrew, Kristina Huber and Sara Steffen.

Once the agency is dispatched by a fire department or the Red Cross, a CPiC response team is deployed immediately to the incident scene.

Trained responders provide on-scene emotional support for people and valuable resources for the animals.

These resources include pet supplies, pet food and emergency temporary shelter for families’ pets involved with or displaced from their family or home due to the crisis.

Services and Supplies

Some services provided by CPiC include educational events, search and rescue, containing animals in high-stress situations, and temporary shelter through a foster network.

Additionally, pet comfort bags, basic medical care for pets including oxygen masks and even after-life services such as free cremations through PALS, a community partner.

Emergency supplies include crates and carriers for cats and dogs, wet and dry pet food, treats, collars and cat litter/disposal litter boxes and scoops.

Petco and PetSmart gift cards, animal toys, and food and water bowls are given occasionally as well. All supplies are donation-based and free to victims.

All-Volunteer Staff

All of the work for CPiC is done on a volunteer basis by trained and dedicated individuals.

“We have a pretty big volunteer base,” Dan said. “Probably 20 to 30 people, most doing non-emergency response work. They meet with people at a motel after a fire and give them supplies. A few volunteers are cross-trained for social work and emergency response.”

The organization is dependent upon local community support, donations and sponsorships. Those sponsors include 1-800-BOARDUP, The Fetch Foundation, Arizona Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Center, PALS (Pet and Animal Lover Service), and Likeit! Promotions.

CPiC’s fundamental belief is that pets are family. They will do whatever is needed to keep pets and their families together in times of crisis.

Donations Are Key

Donations are always welcomed by CPiC, a 501c3 nonprofit agency. Here’s what a tax-deductible financial donation would provide:

  • $25 – One pet with an emergency relief kit (crate with pet food and supplies needed to keep pets with their family).
  • $60 – A 72-hour stay in an emergency temporary shelter, as well as required vaccinations.
  • $75 – 15 Comfort Bags with overnight pet care essentials provided by first responders to pet owners.
  • $100 – Fuel for an emergency response vehicle for one month.

Those interested in donating to CPiC should visit CPICaz.org and click on “Donate”.

The Patriot Health Alliance has donated approximately $2,000 worth of Greens for Dogs to CPiC.

“Folks like Patriot Health Alliance are huge for us,” Dan said. “Just this morning I gave Patriot Greens for Dogs to people who’d had an electrical fire.

“The dogs are going into temporary boarding, so there will probably be a lapse of nutrition. CPiC donated the Greens to help ease the transition.”

‘COVID Doesn’t Stop Fires’

While COVID-19 has affected how CPiC operates, Dan says some things never change.

“We’re very proactive about protecting our clients,” he said. “We wear masks on the scene and practice social distancing as much as possible.

“But we’re going to keep working. COVID doesn’t stop house fires. When things are falling on you or a wall explodes, house fire victims’ last concern is, ‘Where is my mask?’

“We are very focused on getting the job done right, including helping people relocate to pet-friendly places and providing emotional support.”

Moral Compass Points the Way

Dan, who produced the Puppy Pilots TV series, once flew to Alabama to rescue 23 dogs. He brought them back to Arizona and got them adopted.

Asked why he spends so much of his free time helping people and their pets stay together, Dan said, “I just believe it’s the right thing to do.

“I keep ‘homeless kits’ in my car and I drop off the bags for homeless people who need help. Even if it helps just one person, maybe they can go out and help someone else.

“I believe that balancing earning money and volunteering provides a moral compass for my life.”

Today there are many pet owners – and pets – who are happy that moral compass is pointed toward Dan’s heart.

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