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Oklahoma launches program to keep pets and first responders safe during emergencies

Monica Silvestre
/
Pexels

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is working with a company called LifePet.Care to help first responders know how to deal with pets they encounter.

When first responders arrive at a residence, they’ll be greeted with a QR code and a colored dot sticker on the front door or gate. A green sticker means pets are inside but haven’t demonstrated aggressive behavior; a red sticker means the responder should be prepared for unfriendly animals.

“I cannot tell you how many stories I've heard about paramedics being attacked by animals,” said Robert Greene, CEO of LifePet.Care. “It's traumatizing”

Once first responders have safely made it in, the program aims to help them care for the animals. If the resident has to go to the hospital or is otherwise incapacitated, the first responder can scan the QR code to find contact information and alert the resident’s designated backup pet caregiver.

“Tenants name who will take care of their animal in case of emergency, or who would take care of their animal at the unlikely event of their death,” Greene said. “And that person, that caregiver, has to sign off on their willingness to take that role on.”

The idea is to keep animals out of Oklahoma’s shelters, which arestruggling to keep up with the number of unhoused pets. Greene said about half of all households have pets after a 250% increase in pet ownership since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“We've gotten calls from all over the country with this problem,” Greene said. “So it was just fortunate that Oklahoma was the first to step forward saying, ‘Okay, let's do this,’ because it needed to be done.”

Oklahoma is testing the QR code system as a 5000-person pilot program in senior and low-income housing. They’ll start in Oklahoma County, then expand the program statewide after a few months. This is the first statewide test of this program, although LivePet.Care did test it in Denver’s senior housing last year.

“Rolling it out to the general public, I think, is the goal,” Greene said. “They have to study it, but I could tell you, based on our pilot in Colorado, they're tabling legislation to do it statewide.”

Greene said even before the program’s launch, Oklahoma has already improved it. To make it useful in rural areas, they’re developing QR stickers that can work on gate posts. At the Oklahoma City Fire Department’s suggestion, they’ll be posted at multiple entry points.

“We're learning a lot already through this Oklahoma program,” Greene said. “It could help every single state.”

Greene said in the future, the QR code could contain additional secured information about medical history and disaster plans.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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