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Shelter opens for animals and owners

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WILMINGTON -- While this storm is still churning in the Atlantic it's a good time to talk emergency planning. That includes having a plan ready for your pet. New Hanover County has a third shelter ready for pets in the event of an evacuation. And unlike the other shelters, this one will house both pets and their owners. The separation between pets and their owners during Hurricane Katrina highlighted the need for hurricane shelters to factor pets into emergency preparedness plans. New Hanover County has had two pet shelters ready during past storms. Now they have gone one step further. Emergency managers have prepared a third shelter at noble middle school designed specifically for pets and their owners to be housed in one location. The facility will be located at 6520 Market St. It will have capacity for 80 dogs and 36 cats. If it fills up, pet owners can take their animals to the New Hanover County Animal Control Services facility at 180 division drive. While it's helpful to bring supplies, it is not mandatory. Kristen Wingenroth with New Hanover County Emergency Management said, "We have crates for consistency. We have those set up and ready to go. They should not worry about bringing food unless they have a special diet. We have all the supplies." Other shelters in the county include Eaton and Johnson Elementary schools. And county-run shelters are not the only option. Also, there are many pet-friendly hotels if you'd like to evacuate inland, which is the safest option. It is also recommended that you bring a photo of your pet to the shelter for identification purposes and make sure your pet is wearing an ID tag. Animal Control officials prefer that pets are spayed or neutered. And while your pet should also have had all vaccinations, they will not turn you away if your pet has not had all vaccinations. And when we talk about preparing your pet, that includes making sure it's been vaccinated for rabies. Students and faculty at UNCW are sponsoring a free clinic Saturday. Anyone with a dog, cat or ferret can bring their pet to the clinic for a free rabies vaccination. Experts say more than 55,000 people worldwide die every year from being bitten by a rabid animal. But they say it is very preventable as long as all domestic pets have been vaccinated. More importantly, it's mandatory. Jean McNeil with Animal Control Services said, "Rabies is the only vaccine that is required by law. We police it as an animal control agency. And in New Hanover County, dogs, cats and ferrets four months of age and older are required to have the vaccine." The clinic will be held on the UNCW campus, next to Trask Coliseum. It runs from one o'clock to three p.m. Saturday afternoon.

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