While a lot of attention is devoted to disaster planning for people, preparation for pets is often left out of the conversation. In fact, ASPCA research has found that more than one-third of cat and dog owners don’t have a disaster preparedness plan in place. In a country where approximately 68 percent of households own a pet, it is critical for pet owners and communities alike to have an emergency preparedness plan for animals.

To determine how prepared U.S. communities are to handle animal-related issues in the event of an emergency, the ASPCA conducted a national survey. We learned that 32 states have dedicated response teams to assist animals in the event of an emergency. This represents a vast improvement from what we would have seen 15 years ago, when disaster response plans for animals were a much lower priority.

Much of that improvement can be attributed to the incredible impact Hurricane Katrina had on animal search-and-rescue. During that disaster, approximately 10,000 animals were evacuated, but less than half were reunited with their families. There were more improvements in emergency animal response in the decade following Hurricane Katrina than during any other time in our history, and many more animal lives have been saved as a result of the lessons learned.

But there’s still work to be done. Last year, the ASPCA developed a Community Preparedness Checklist to help communities identify the strengths and shortfalls of their animal Emergency Operations Plan. This tool is a key component in helping communities identify disaster-related risks and take crucial steps toward elevating their level of preparedness and improving their response. Using that information, the ASPCA can target high-risk communities and provide necessary training and grants to enhance local animal response capabilities.

To continue this crucial progress, organizations like the ASPCA rely on community members for help, and there are many ways you can get involved:

1. Contact

Contact your local Office of Emergency Management to see if there’s a plan in place to provide emergency sheltering options for displaced animals during disaster situations.

2. Reach out

Reach out to groups that provide emergency pet boarding and ask if they are accepting donations for animal supplies and equipment.

3. Volunteer

Offer your services as a responder to help animals in need. If your county has a Community Animal Response Team, connect with them to find out how you can help.

While most disasters strike with little or no warning, that doesn’t mean we can’t effectively prepare for them. The more we do in advance, the more lives we can save and the more families we can keep united.