How to include your pet in your emergency preparedness plan

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Whether your area is prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, or floods, you likely already have a natural disaster plan in place: a family communication plan, a meet-up space, and a supply of bottled water and canned food. But have you considered your pets’ well-being in your plan?

After Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the New Orleans area in 2005, an estimated 15,000 pets were rescued by the New Orleans SPCA, and about 90,000 area pets were never accounted for. Some sources say more than 500,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of the storm.

Similarly, too many pets were separated from their families during Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Texas in 2017 and the Smoky Mountain wildfires in late 2016. Many displaced pets were never reunited with their families.

While we hope to avoid other natural disasters, we know we can’t count on mother nature behaving. That makes it vital to know how to keep your pets calm during a natural disaster, how to include them in your evacuation or safety plans, and what you should keep on hand for when disaster strikes.

1. Include your pets in your disaster plan.

For a sudden disaster: Assign someone to carry your pets from the house, and discuss what you will do if, say, you must climb out a second story window with your Great Dane. Write your plan down and practice it, if possible. Bring your pets indoors at the first sign of trouble – keep an eye on weather alerts and the sky itself.

If you need to run to a safe room, keep emergency supplies in that area, including your pet’s leash or carrier. If, say, you hide in a basement during a tornado and your house becomes damaged, you don’t want to look in the rubble for a leash, nor do you want your pet to bolt.

For a slower evacuation: Sometimes, you get a little more time to prepare for an oncoming disaster. Know to where you will evacuate – a landlocked family member’s home? A hotel? The destination plays a big role in what you do with your pets. A family member may allow you to bring your dog and cat, while a hotel may not. Investigate available evacuation routes before disaster strikes.

If you can’t bring your pets to your evacuation spot, find an alternative for them, such as a boarding kennel in the city to which you evacuate, or a friend or family member who can take your pets with them instead. Do not leave your pet alone in your home if you can help it.

For situations where you can’t get to your pet: Of course, it may be out of your control. Prepare for a situation in which you can’t go home to get your pet, such as flash flooding or icy roads that precede a blizzard. Give a trusted neighbor or nearby friend a key to your house and task them with evacuating or feeding your pets in the event that you can’t get to them. You can also get a free sticker from the ASPCA to alert first responders that you have pets inside. If you or a friend can get your pets, try to remove the sticker or write “Pets evacuated” on your door, so first responders don’t look for animals that aren’t there!

2. Prepare an evacuation kit

We can’t always predict what will happen – if your home is victim to a freak tornado, you can’t be expected to see it coming. But if you live in Tornado Alley or along the Gulf Coast, you should be aware of the kinds of disasters to which the area is prone.

If you do live in such an area, keep an emergency pet kit that includes:

  • Leashes and harnesses
  • Food
  • Bottled water
  • Bowls (a couple of collapsible bowls would work well for this)
  • Cat litter and a pan
  • Manual can opener if your pet eats canned food
  • Travel ID tag, to update with current lodging and contact number
  • Copies of medical records in a waterproof bag along with your vet’s contact information and a list of medical conditions and feeding schedules. This helps if you must board your pet.
  • Medications your pet needs.

Keep this in your pet’s carrier so it’s all in one spot, ready to go if disaster strikes. If your area is prone to flooding, keep it in a waterproof container instead. Consider wrapping pool noodles around the container so it will float in a flood and be easy to find.

It’s also wise to keep a current photo of your pet on you, just in case you get separated. Microchip your pet at your veterinarian before disaster strikes and keep identification tags up to date. You can also get a free sticker from the ASPCA to put on your door to tell first responders whether you have any pets inside. If you evacuate with your pet, try to remove this sticker or write “pets evacuated” on it or your door before you leave.

3. Remember the danger isn’t over after the storm (literal or figurative) passes

When you return home, be patient and careful. When the fire, hurricane, tornado, or other disaster is over, your home may be a different place.

You might encounter fallen fences, missing doors or roofs, fallen trees. Familiar landmarks and smells may be gone, disorienting your pet. You might run into unknown animals – other people’s pets or local wildlife that are lost and confused as well. There may be dangerous debris that you don’t want your pet to step on or ingest. Your pet may be flat out scared.

All of this adds up to a dangerous environment for your pets. If possible, leave your pets in a safe place while you do an initial assessment. If you must bring them with you, keep them in carriers or on a reliable leash so they don’t leave your sight.

4. Comfort your pets.

Your pets are tuned into your stress and even to atmospheric changes. They may:

  • Act out by crying, barking, or howling.
  • Chew items they wouldn’t normally chew.
  • Have accidents indoors or in a car.
  • Growl or bite you or other people, especially strangers.

To keep them calm, you can:

  • Talk to your pets in a soothing voice.
  • Give plenty of belly rubs, ear scratches, or other physical signs of love.
  • Keep a routine, if possible – go on walks at regular times, feed as normal, etc.
  • Avoid introducing them to new people if you can help it.
  • Be generous with treats.
  • Bring favorite toys and blankets, if possible.

No matter what, do not punish your pets – they are stressed, scared, and confused.

We can’t always anticipate disasters. Plan now to maximize the outcome for your family and your pets. Call us for information on microchipping and other disaster preparedness.

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