Animal Legal Defense Fund Demands Clarification of Pet Evacuation Policies for U.S. Military Families in Japan

Posted on March 17, 2011

Desperate Pleas from Fearful Military Pet Owners Prompt Inquiries to Departments of Defense, State

Dog and catAs the first U.S. charter flights evacuating the families of military personnel begin to leave Japan, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to clarify the U.S. government’s policy on whether or not military families can bring their pets with them–or must be forced to choose between staying in harm’s way and abandoning a beloved companion. ALDF has received desperate emails from the families of active military in Japan, terrified of what fate awaits their animals if, as they have recently been informed, pets will not be allowed on evacuation planes chartered by the U.S. Department of State.

The increasing threat of radioactivity in the wake of last week’s unprecedented earthquake and tsunami have led the military to begin voluntary evacuations today for the families of U.S. military stationed in Japan. It is at the discretion of the agencies overseeing these evacuations whether or not to allow pets–beloved family members to hundreds of U.S. military families in Japan–to evacuate with their owners.

“In a context of terrifying natural and nuclear disasters, with military personnel and their families already being separated from each other, we would hope that the U.S. government would not place an additional burden on military families by disregarding the very real bonds they have with their animal companions,” says Carter Dillard, ALDF’s director of litigation. “It is our hope that the tragedy of people forced to abandon beloved pets in order to evacuate to safety, which we saw play out on a heartbreaking scale during Hurricane Katrina, is not replicated during the current crisis in Japan.”

A copy of ALDF’s letter to the Department of State and the Department of Defense follows.

March 17, 2011

Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

Dear Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gates:

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has been contacted by family members of active duty U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan who are deeply concerned that they will not be allowed to bring their companion animals with them should they choose to leave the country as part of the voluntary evacuations authorized today. News stories corroborate their fears that pets will not be allowed on the State Department’s charter flights out of the country.

According to U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of State official policy guidance (Annex M of the November, 2005, Joint Plan for DOD Noncombatant Evacuation and Repatriation), it “is clear that ‘pets usually cannot be accommodated on an evacuation flight.’” ALDF is respectfully writing to inquire as to how the policy is now being applied to the evacuations underway in Japan.

According to the desperate emails ALDF has received from families stationed in Japan, many are hesitant to evacuate from the escalating radiation danger because they do not wish to leave behind their beloved pets.

ALDF has been told by the families of military personnel in Japan that veterinary clinic hours have been extended so that health certificates necessary for departure from the country can be obtained for these animals. However, should pets be denied passage with their families on evacuation flights, an uncertain–and likely, grim–fate awaits the hundreds of pets of U.S. active duty military personnel who are remaining in the country of Japan to assist with relief efforts.

The tragedy of Americans in the midst of disaster being forced to choose between leaving their beloved animals and remaining in harm’s way spurred significant legislation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina–2006′s Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act–designed to ensure that families can evacuate without leaving behind their four-legged members. Americans consider their pets members of their family; they should not have to choose between fleeing the current danger in Japan and abandoning their animals. Please clarify for us how the United States government intends to apply its policies regarding pet evacuation to avoid compounding the already-heartrending circumstances for these military families.

Sincerely,

Carter Dillard
Director of Litigation
Animal Legal Defense Fund
www.aldf.org