Animal rescue group encourages pet owners to include animals in disaster planning.

Pet owners, animal lovers, or anyone who is concerned about the welfare of animals when disaster strikes are invited to a Paw Festival from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Pratt Area 4-H Center.

Animals are welcome to come for fun and games, but for everyone's safety, dogs must be carried or on a short leash and cats and small pets must be in a carrier.

The fun part of the afternoon includes games such as doggie musical chairs, stupid pet tricks, bones in a haystack, rubber ducky dunking, tug of war and a potato race. Animals can earn prizes and points their owners can use to purchase pet-related items from a gift shop. Photo identification of pets can be made for $5. Activities are also available for kids, without pets.

The Rev. Karen Lemon, vicar at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pratt, will perform a blessing of the animals for anyone who is interested.

The afternoon is sponsored by the Kingman/Pratt Area Animal Response Team, with help from local 4-H members enrolled in the dog project. Coordinator Carolyn Jergenson promises the festival will be a "whole lot of fun," and also serve to let people know about the organization and how they can be of service.

Animal response teams were formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when so many people lost their pets or refused to evacuate without their animals, according to Jergenson. Katrina demonstrated that a significant number of people would choose to risk their own lives in order to remain with their pets.

In 2006, a Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act was passed, requiring that city and state disaster plans include information about how households with pets or service animals will be accommodated, in order to qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding.

In short, people have to be allowed to take their pets when they are evacuated, and shelters must be provided.

"It's about how to respond better to the needs of people. They're more likely to leave if there is a safe place for their pets," Jergenson said.

The Greensburg tornado of 2007 sparked an interest in establishing response teams in Kansas. At least 20 teams have been established in the state.

Volunteers are trained to set up and operate shelters for pets and other domestic animals, Jergenson said. Working with county emergency managers, credentialed volunteers can set up a complete animal shelter within 24 hours.

The festival provides the area response team an opportunity to encourage and educate people to make their own family disaster plans that include their pets and to let them know that can take their pets if ordered to evacuate and a shelter will be provided.

Plan for pets

• Make sure pets are wearing up-to-date ID; better yet, have them microchipped

• Evacuate with your pets. If it's not safe for you, it's not safe for them.

• Make and practice a disaster plan for the household.

• Keep a weather radio on hand. If your area is under watch or warning, keep pets indoors and confined.

• Keep carriers and leashes accessible.

• Plan ahead for an alternate location for people and pets.

• Contact hotels outside immediate area and ask about pet policies.

• Keep a list of local vet clinics and boarding facilities which may provide emergency sheltering.