In late August and early September 2017, the approach of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma prompted social media claims that the federal government, either through a 2006 law or through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), mandated that pets be allowed to accompany disaster evacuees into hotels and motels.
A typical expression of the claim read:
ATTENTION: If you are evacuating to a hotel/motel and they say they DON’T accept pets, don’t get ugly, but simply tell them that is against the law & FEMA established that after Hurricane Katrina!
The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS) was a bi-partisan initiative in the United States House of Representatives to require states seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance to accommodate pets and service animals in their plans for evacuating residents facing disasters.
DONT SHARE, COPY AND PASTE SO MORE PEOPLE READ THIS!”
The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 essentially requires that FEMA take into account the needs of pet owners when developing disaster preparedness plans, and it also authorizes the director of the agency to fund emergency shelter facilities which can accommodate displaced persons with pets and service animals, but it makes no mention of requirements placed on hotels or motels:
Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006
Amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to require the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure that state and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals prior to, during, and following a major disaster or emergency.
Authorizes the Director to: (1) study and develop plans that take into account the needs of individuals with pets and service animals prior to, during, and following a major disaster or emergency; and (2) make financial contributions, on the basis of programs or projects approved by the Director, to the states and local authorities for animal emergency preparedness purposes, including the procurement, construction, leasing, or renovating of emergency shelter facilities and materials that will accommodate people with pets and service animals.
Authorizes federal agencies to provide, as assistance essential to meeting threats to life and property resulting from a major disaster, rescue, care, shelter, and essential needs to individuals with household pets and service animals and to such pets and animals.
The “Rumors” section of FEMA’s website now specifically addresses this issue and notes that the rumor about hotels and motels being legally required to accommodate pets is false:
There are reports that hotels and motels participating in the Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program are legally required to accommodate pets. This is FALSE. (September 8)
Hotels and motels participating in FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program do not fall under the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act (Pub. L. 109-308 (2006)). Please call the hotel before you go and ask if pets are permitted.
Hotels must accept service animals and individuals with access and functional needs should check with the hotel to ensure if accessible lodging accommodations are available to meet their needs.
In preparation for Tropical Storm Irene, FEMA advised pet owners to “locate several ‘pet-friendly’ hotels” but made no mention of any purported requirement for all hotels to accommodate pets:
Planning for animal evacuation:
- If you must leave your residence, have a plan for your family pets;
- Go online and locate several “pet-friendly” hotels in and out of your area;
- Identify friends or relatives outside your area where you and your pets can stay;
- If there is a disaster pending, evacuate early with your pets, working animals and livestock; don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation order; and
- Animals should have leg bands or tattoos, microchips or identification tags with their name as well as your address and phone number.
However, disabled people who use service animals do have the law on their side when they check into hotels. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes service animals legally exempt from any hotel “pet policies.
Bottom line: no law requires hotels to accommodate household pets during a natural disaster. Pet owners should plan accordingly.