KINGSTON — In a seeming departure from the usual policy, pet owners are being allowed to bring their pets to the emergency shelter at Sanborn Regional High School.
The main shelter is operated by the Great Bay chapter of the American Red Cross. Its Web site says service animals, but not pets, are allowed in the shelter. A spokeswoman at the Red Cross referred questions about pets to the New Hampshire emergency operations center.
"There had been a little bit of confusion," said Norman Hurley, Kingston's director of emergency management, because some pets and owners had been turned away initially. "We didn't communicate well enough with the Red Cross."
Pet owners are staying in a separate room at the high school with their pets. Hurley did not know yesterday how many pets had come to the shelter.
The town opened the room Saturday with the permission of the school superintendent and the custodial staff after a woman was spotted sleeping in her car with her pet. She was using the car heater to keep them both warm. A police officer brought her and the pet to the shelter.
A misunderstanding developed later when Red Cross volunteers changed shifts. The newly arrived shelter workers sent the pets away, but the situation was later resolved.
"We talked to the Red Cross, and we're all onboard," Hurley said.
About 17 shelters statewide have allowed pets during the ice storm and the policy is nothing new, according to Gregg Champlain, spokesman for the state Department of Safety.
"This has been going on for a long time," Champlain said. "The Red Cross policy was pretty much 'you can't bring pets,'" he said.
But when so many people opted to forgo the shelters rather than leave their pets behind, the state Department of Agriculture and the state veterinarian stepped up and developed pet-friendly shelters, he said.
Typically, Champlain said, owners must bring a crate for the pet, and the animals may be confined to an area separate from people.
Some other pet-friendly shelters are in Exeter, Epping, Henniker, Farmington, Deerfield, Chichester and Chesterfield, he said.
Valorie Hayes of the Salem Animal Rescue League said this event might change perceptions at shelter organizations, which have turned pets away in the past.
"People do not want to leave pets at home," she said. "The majority of hotels don't take pets and those that do, filled up immediately."
SARL helped pet owners find temporary homes for 15 animals that came to the shelter in the first hours after the storm hit Thursday night. Over the weekend, SARL accepted six or seven more, but most of the pets did not stay long.
"They're coming in and going out," Hayes said, "some as soon as a couple of hours."
SARL takes pets for a temporary stay under Safe Home Safe Pet, a program started initially to help battered women who couldn't bring their pets to a women's shelter and couldn't leave them at an animal shelter without surrendering them for adoption. Last year, the program was expanded to help people in mortgage foreclosure.
"It only made sense," Hayes said, to open the shelter in the ice storm.
SARL is not charging people. Anyone in need of a place for their pets can call SARL at 890-2166.
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