FORT KENT, Maine — When it comes to natural and human disasters, it can be easy to get caught by surprise and forget about those victims least able to help themselves.

Next week the Humane Society of the United States will hold three free workshops in Aroostook County aimed at teaching pet owners and animal rights advocates how to protect pets during an emergency.

Katie Lisnik, Maine state director for the society, will lead workshops at the Houlton Congregational Church on Tuesday; the Madawaska Safety Complex on Wednesday; and the Presque Isle City Council Room on Thursday.

All three workshops run from 6 to 8 p.m.

“A lot of people’s response to a disaster is based on their pets,” said Priscilla Staples, Fort Kent PAWS Animal Welfare Society volunteer.

Staples has seen firsthand the challenges facing pet owners during disasters thanks to her involvement in last spring’s flooding in Fort Kent.

“One lady in [Fort Kent] was having a hard time relocating out of the floodwaters because she had three cats,” Staples said. “We were lucky in town that the local veterinarian opened her doors to displaced pets.”

Just as for their human companions, pets can suffer extreme trauma during disasters if not taken care of properly.

“Animals do get post-traumatic stress syndrome,” Staples said. “They can become hypersensitive and reactive.”

Having a plan in place for pets and other animals would help alleviate those issues, Staples said, and is the purpose behind the workshops.

“I am excited to work with animal lovers in our community,” Lisnik said in a release announcing the workshops. “We will talk about personal disaster preparedness, current events, and ways to get involved in preparation for animals in our state.”

In addition to learning how to protect their pets in the event of a disaster, workshop participants will discuss other animal initiatives and how they can be a voice for animals in Maine.

For Staples and her group, that includes establishing a permanent location to house homeless and abandoned pets year-round.

“Right now we are a shelter without walls,” she said, noting PAWS members are fostering numerous stray cats from around the St. John Valley.

Such a shelter also would be used in times of emergency, she added.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.