Division A - Public Relations Programs
Category 2 - Public Service
Pet Friendly Shelter Program
Angela Dean Vigil, Animal Care & Control, Emergency Preparedness - City of Jacksonville

Judges' Award

Research/Situation Analysis: Television coverage of a devastated little boy forced to leave his dog behind during Hurricane Katrina rescue operations showed the world up close the desolation of abandoning a pet during an emergency. According to a study by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, most pet owners think of their pets as their children or family member (74 percent of dog owners, 60 percent of cat owners and 45 percent of bird owners).
Past hurricane evacuations in Jacksonville and elsewhere proved that many people would not leave their pets behind even when they themselves were in eminent danger. In some communities, people and animals have even died because pet owners had no place to go with their four-legged loved ones. That is a scenario we wanted to avoid in Jacksonville.
Anticipating future evacuation scenarios, the City of Jacksonville and other community-based organizations wanted to be prepared to take care of pet-owning residents during an emergency. Many City of Jacksonville departments including Animal Care and Control, the Emergency Operations Center, the Duval County Health Department, the Duval Country School System and the American Red Cross teamed up with the Public Information Office to develop a sheltering plan and a methodology to educate the community about that plan.

Objectives: 1. Inform at least 50 percent of Jacksonville’s pet-owning population about the new shelter program
2. Have at least 100 families pre-register for the shelter program
3. Drive traffic to information outlets such as the Web site and Call Center.

Implementation: The group created a Pet Friendly Shelter Integrated Contingency Plan (ICP). The ICP integrates best practices from other communities combined with input gathered from local stakeholders. Guidelines and registration forms were created to give the public the information needed to prepare to go to a shelter with a pet. To reach the broadest possible audience, the materials were placed online, in public offices and can be ordered over the telephone.
Once guidelines and protocols were in place, talking points and a press release were created and distributed to all relevant stakeholders (City Agencies – including the city call center and Animal Care and Control; the American Red Cross; veterinarians and other animal welfare organizations) to ensure that the media and the public would get the answers they needed in an organized and consistent way. Informational sessions were held to train front-line employees who would talk with the public about the program. A Web site and downloadable pre-registration forms were created to give the public a convenient place to learn more and get the contact information needed to participate in the program.
The promotional effort included promoting the program through radio and television talk show appearances, print stories in The Florida Times-Union and other print publications, as well as appearances by various team members at local speaking engagements such as community and town hall meetings.

Evaluation: The Pet Friendly Public Evacuation Shelter Program Plan enjoyed great reception in the community and the media, exceeding all its objectives.
1. Press coverage was positive and plentiful. Using metrics on local media outlet saturation, more than 85 percent of Jacksonville pet owners had the potential to learn about the pet friendly shelter program through the earned media. Coverage included multiple stories in local papers, multiple stories on local news broadcasts and appearances on morning programs and radio appearances such as the one on a WOKV talk radio program about preparing for a disaster.
2. Three hundred forty families pre-registered for the shelters more that exceeding out goal of 100 for participation the first year.
3. The new Web site created for the program had more than 9,000 visitors in the first 60 days of the launch. On June 1, 2006, it was the number 20 page visited out of more than 5,000 possible City of Jacksonville Web pages. The city call center received hundreds of requests for information.

Budget: There were no hard costs to create, organize or implement The Pet Friendly Public Evacuation Shelter Program Plan. Shelter registration forms were printed at a cost of $200 to accommodate people who couldn’t download a copy of the forms.