DEM praises work of Potter League during gas outage

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is glad to recognize the Potter League for Animals, Rhode Island’s animal shelter network, and State Veterinarian Scott Marshall, DVM, for their responsiveness keeping more than 100 pets safe during the recent gas outage on Aquidneck Island.

On Jan. 21, more than 7,100 residents of Newport and Middletown lost gas service and were urged to find another place to stay until heat could be restored. With temperatures in the single digits, residents packed local warming shelters but were unable to take their pets with them because only service animals are permitted in these shelters.

In a case of extraordinarily good timing, the Potter League – the animal shelter for Newport County – had coincidentally reached out to Dr. Marshall earlier this month asking if he’d do a presentation on emergency response and pet sheltering for some of their staff and the public.

In his capacity as State Veterinarian, Marshall had previously conceived of a pet sheltering plan that designated the Potter League and the shelters in Westerly, South Kingstown, and Pawtucket to be emergency shelters.

Marshall secured funding to supply the shelters with extra crates, cages, generators, and refrigerators. When Governor Gina M. Raimondo declared a state of emergency in Newport County last week, Marshall’s first call was to the Potter League, which stayed open throughout the night to accept pets of families going to warming shelters.

On the first night of the emergency, eight animals sheltered at the Potter League. During the next day, that number grew to 30. By the second night, Jan. 22, it swelled to 80 animals. And by the end of the week, 101 pets sheltered at the Potter League and Westerly Animal Shelter. (The South Kingstown Animal Shelter was on standby for this event.)

“Ensuring the safety and welfare of animals is a responsibility that Rhode Islanders take very seriously,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “I am so proud of and humbled by the selfless actions of the Potter League staff – many of whom themselves were affected by the gas outage – the Westerly Animal Center, the shelters that were on standby, and DEM’s own Dr. Scott Marshall for ensuring that 101 beloved pets were kept fed, warm, and safe during this week-long emergency. What makes their responsiveness exceptional is that unlike, for example, in the instance of a hurricane when at least there is time to prepare for landfall, this was a no-notice event that challenged our pet shelter emergency plan and the plan stood up.”

“We are proud we were able to help when called upon,” said Potter League Executive Director Brad Shear. “The outpouring of support for animals and humans alike is something the community should be proud of. Thankfully we are in a community that is supportive of the Potter League, so we could be there when we were needed. All the credit for the response should be to our animal care staff who were stayed all night to keep our services available to anyone in need and make sure every animal was cared for.”

“I reached out to the Potter League to ask them to open with the expectation that there may be a need to shelter pets,” said Dr. Marshall. “Much credit to Brad Shear and Amy Chamard (the Potter League’s Director of Operations) and their staff, they were forward-leaning on this and already making preparations while awaiting the ‘official word’ from me to open.”

Marshall noted that Potter League had independently reached out to the Bristol shelter to ask if they could take some of the resident animals/adoptable animals that were at Potter when the outage began so that Potter could focus on shelter needs of Aquidneck Island. As it turned out, the Bristol shelter’s help was not needed, but knowing its extra shelter space was available was a relief.

“The Potter League was a terrific partner throughout the crisis. Their staff really stepped up for the community they serve, and I am very grateful,” Dr. Marshall said. He also acknowledged the Bristol and South Kingstown animal shelters and the RISPCA for their willingness to assist with transportation and pet sheltering, if needed.

A resident of North Smithfield, Marshall has served as the Rhode Island State Veterinarian since January 2007. He oversees the Division of Agriculture’s Animal Health Unit, whose mission is to ensure the health of Rhode Island animals, ensure public health, and promote agriculture.

Under Dr. Marshall’s leadership during the past 12 years, DEM has adopted detailed housing and care standards for animal care facilities licensed by the state; updated regulations related to the importation of animals, rabies prevention and control, and the importation and possession of exotic wild animals; and facilitated the growth and viability of various animal-related segments of the state’s agricultural economy.

Marshall serves on the advisory boards of Livestock Welfare and the Organics Advisory Board and as president of the Rabies Control Board. In 2013 he was named RI Veterinarian of the Year by the RI Veterinary Medical Association for his meritorious service to the public and the veterinary and animal welfare communities.

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