Ulster County Animal Response Team helps tend to pets during emergencies – Daily Freeman

Ulster County Animal Response Team helps tend to pets during emergencies – Daily Freeman

KINGSTON, N.Y. — When disaster strikes, it can be difficult for some people to evacuate their homes if they have nowhere to go that will allow their pets.

It’s a dilemma that the Ulster County Animal Response Team was created to help address.

The Ulster County Animal Response Team, or UCART, was formed in the spring of 2014, co-leader Nadia Steinzor said recently. She said the all-volunteer agency operates under the auspices of the Ulster County Office of Emergency Management and deploys only when directed to in response to declared emergencies.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, right, visits the warming shelter and UCART shelter set up at the Andy Murphy Neighborhood Center in Midtown Kingston, N.Y., after the ice storm that struck Ulster County in February 2022. (Tania Barricklo/Daily Freeman, File)

In fact, the team’s only deployment to date occurred during the February 2022 ice storm that hit the Hudson Valley and knocked out power for several days to thousands of Ulster County residents.

Steinzor said county officials realized very early in the storm that they were going to have to set up shelters and activate all their emergency services and protocols. She said UCART was included in that deployment. The county designated the Andy Murphy III Midtown Neighborhood Center in the city of Kingston as a shelter that would include animal sheltering, Steinzor said.

The volunteers with UCART deployed to the Kingston shelter and were there for the duration of the emergency, helping people and their animals, Steinzor said. She said the American Red Cross, which was operating the shelter, was very flexible in allowing animals to stay with their humans, “which is really the ideal situation.”

Steinzor said UCART has a pull-along trailer that can be transported to areas where it is needed during emergencies. She said the trailer has kennels and cages on either side, along with all the equipment UCART needs. There is also a way for the team to set up a cot in the middle so a volunteer can stay with the animals being sheltered in the trailer, Steinzor said.

During the ice storm, though, it was difficult to operate the trailer due to the cold, Steinzor said. Since the Andy Murphy center is so large, she added, UCART was able to keep people together with their pets inside the building.

“So we really made sure that any pets that came in who were being kept together with their humans would be at enough of a distance that you wouldn’t have conflicts and that they were all crated,” Steinzor said. She said UCART provided crates, linens, food, and other necessities for people who brought their pets with them to the shelter. Steinzor said there were dogs and cats in the shelter, as well as some birds and an iguana.

A pamphlet and information about the Ulster County Animal Response Team. (Tania Barricklo/Daily Freeman)

While the ice storm was the first time UCART had been deployed, the team had come close in previous situations, Steinzor said.

“It’s a kind of ‘what-if’ volunteer work so everybody who is involved has to always be ready and trained and willing,” Steinzor said. “And at the same time, years can go by that we’re not deployed.”

Still, Steinzor said volunteers are always needed, especially those willing to take the courses to become certified to actually run the shelter during an emergency.

Liz Wassell, who is the volunteer lead and team co-founder, said the volunteers run the gamut of experience. She said the certified volunteers have to take four online courses to be able to step foot on site when the team is deployed.

“Three are typical for other responders in other fields,” Wassell said of the courses. “And one which is more animal-related. Those would be the bare minimum requirements that UCART must demonstrate for each volunteer to be considered official by the county.”

There are also “Just In Time” volunteers who help out with walking dogs or cleaning crates or other tasks during extended deployments, Steinzor said.

“We welcome all sorts of skill sets,” Wassell said. “Of course, we dearly appreciate people with sheltering experience but we also will really love people who are adept at social media, for example, or people who are just willing to make phone calls.” She said the volunteers can choose to be deployed in the field or help from home.

Anyone interested in actually operating the shelter during an emergency, though, should try to get as much experience as possible, Wassell said. She said she would encourage those individuals to also volunteer regularly at their local animal shelters. Wassell said she has been volunteering with the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for 15 years and the Saugerties Animal Shelter for about three. People with experience sheltering animals bring that with them during emergencies, she said.

“They bring that experience with them and it’s so appreciated when we are deployed that someone actually knows how to handle an animal safely while they’re enclosed,” Wassell said. “And also be able to be a part of an operation that is definitely in an emergency situation.” She added that volunteering at local shelters benefits everyone, especially the animals.

Steinzor said the team currently has approximately 20 certified volunteers who are on the list for deployment in the event of a declared emergency. She said the team has to be at the shelter round-the-clock during the emergency so more help is always needed.

“Looking ahead, I think there’s a growing push for cross-county collaboration on all levels of emergency services,” Steinzor said. “And we’re certainly looking at that too.”

Steinzor said there is an Empire State Animal Response Team that was set up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 after federal legislation was passed to improve animal sheltering during disasters. She said federal funding filtered down to the states, with New York setting up the Empire State team, and then down to individual counties. Dutchess and Orange have their own animal response teams, Steinzor said.

“We really want to become more familiar and better coordinated with our peers in Dutchess and Orange and other counties where they have CARTs,” Steinzor said. “And hopefully we’ll be moving toward a model where we can help each other out … as volunteers depending on where the disaster strikes. Because with the climate patterns it’s pretty clear it’s no longer about ‘if,’ but it is about ‘when’ and how often these kinds of events are going to occur.”

For more information about the Ulster County Animal Response Team, visit www.ucart.org or email ucart@ulstercorps.org. A virtual orientation for new volunteers is scheduled to be held via the Zoom online meeting platform beginning at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24. More information will be posted on the UCART page on Facebook at https://bit.ly/3i12L5X.

Photos: Ulster County Animal Response Team (UCART)

Ulster County Animal Response Team helps tend to pets during emergencies – Daily Freeman

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