It's a commonly assumed fact that the residents of Windham County -- because of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant -- are more aware of what to do in case of a disaster, natural or otherwise.

Many of us have created our own emergency kits and have discussed with our families how best to respond in an emergency situation. But what a lot of us don't take into account is, what happens to our pets in an emergency?

Vermont has the largest per capita rate of pet ownership in the country -- with three out of four residents claiming to have a pet, according to recent demographics released by the American Veterinary Medical Association. That is why planning and response efforts for animal and human populations must be intertwined in order to be successful.

On Monday, the Vermont Disaster Animal Response Team announced that it was recently granted $21,500 by the Vermont Department of Public Safety for its Pet Preparedness and Response Project, designed to enhance the state's emergency response to its human population by planning for the needs of its pet population.

The VDART is an umbrella non-profit organization developing and supporting a network of Disaster Animal Response Teams across Vermont in order to prepare, prevent and respond to emergencies affecting animals

"Studies have shown that people will risk their lives to save their pets, or remain in a dangerous situation if they have nowhere to take them in times of crisis" said VDART board chair Joanne Bourbeau, who also serves as the Northeastern Regional Director for the Humane Society of the United States in Jacksonville. "Having served on HSUS national animal response teams since 1997 following a variety of natural and man-made disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Tropical Storm Irene, I've seen the strength of the human-animal bond firsthand."

According to a study conducted by Sebastian E. Heath, Philip H. Kass, Alan M. Beck, and Larry T. Glickman, owning pets appeared to be the most significant reason why households without children failed to evacuate.

"In pet-owning households without children, the risk of evacuation failure nearly doubled with every additional dog or cat owned. Therefore, pet ownership can be a significant threat to public and animal safety in disasters. In these childless households, pet owners were apparently willing to jeopardize their lives to stay with their pet(s)."

The study's authors recommend that the facilitation of pet evacuation become a higher priority in evacuation planning than is currently the case.

"Public safety could be improved during evacuations by providing dog leashes, cages, leather gloves, vehicles, and instructions or assistance for the safe handling and transportation of such animals."

The authors also discovered that some pet owners stayed in their cars, at campgrounds, or at other accommodations during evacuation.

"This suggests that having to find alternative accommodations for pets in a prolonged evacuation forces a significant lifestyle change on some households and could in some cases even lead to temporary homelessness. To provide better accommodations for pet owners and to increase evacuation rates for such households, some areas of the United States are experimenting with 'pet-friendly' public shelters in disasters."

The funding VDART received will be used to increase and enhance VDART's trained volunteer base in the state to assist with the operation of emergency pet shelters, develop standard operating procedures and forms for pet sheltering, develop outreach materials to educate pet owners about how to prepare their own animals for disaster, and work with the American Red Cross to assess the capacity and feasibility of developing pet-friendly areas within identified Red Cross shelters throughout the state.

"We hope to see more regional disaster animal response teams form as a result of the training workshops we'll be holding Windham and Chittenden Counties in May and June," said Bourbeau.

For more information about the project and upcoming training activities, contact Joanne Bourbeau at 802-368-2790 or jbourbeau@humanesociety.org.

Some of the things you can do right away include having a collar with an identification plate attached to it, not dangling from it, and microchipping.

The Humane Society recommends you have photos of your pets on your phone, which make it easier to show people or upload pictures to the web. It also recommends a "Thundershirt," which mimic the tight swaddling of a baby, and can reduce anxiety.

Did you know you should also create a disaster kit for your pet? Kits should include vaccination records, five days worth of food, water and medication. In advance, you might also want to identify a pet-friendly hotel or motel outside of your immediate area or make arrangements with friends or relatives.

For more information on how best to prepare yourself and your pet for an emergency, visit http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/animal_rescue/tips/pets-disaster.html.