We are living in an era when the climate is getting warmer and creating severe weather conditions. The Atlantic hurricane season is starting earlier and the storms are getting stronger. Out west, we have unprecedented heat and drought; the western states are drying out and are at increasing risk of large fires. Cities are experiencing heat emergencies during months when temperatures used to be moderate. Disaster Planning is becoming a necessity for animal owners.
Every one of us could be required to evacuate their homes at short notice, due to some disaster or weather emergency. The question becomes, what do to with our pets? Most of us would simply assume that our pets can go with us. This is true, but only if we plan in advance. A lack of planning and preparedness could be disastrous, as we have seen in past natural disasters when people were forced to abandon their homes and animals.
I’m not saying that you should be in a constant state of readiness to flee your home, however if a hurricane is being forecasted in the next several days, or if the area in which you live is at high risk for fire, you should have a plan and some preparations made to leave for a safer place to ride out the emergency. This should include knowing which vehicles to use, making sure their maintained and fueled, having a ready bag that includes medications, some food and clothing, important papers, prescriptions, medical records, identification, contact numbers, mobile phones and chargers, etc. You should also have a route planned and be informed of your county’s and state’s disaster planning.
But what to do regarding your pets? What items should you have ready, or pre-packed for the event of evacuation? The following is compiled from materials provided by the Department of Homeland Security, the Red Cross, the ASPCA and the Humane Society (links provided below).
Before going further, bear in mind that these are things you have to plan for prior to the emergency. You need to do your research now, make your plans now; and make sure you have the documentation and supplies on hand before the emergency is upon you.
What to do if you can evacuate and take your pets with you.
If you think that you’ll have to evacuate, do not wait until the last minute. You want to be one of the first people out of a dangerous area, not one of the last ones to leave.
Have an evacuation plan. Have a safe destination picked out and know whether it can accommodate both you and your animals. Or have an alternative safe place identified that can take care of your pets during the evacuation.
If you plan to stay in a hotel, identify several in the area that you plan to stay in that accept pets. The Humane Society link at the end of this article lists several resources for finding them.
If you are going to stay with a friend or relative, make arrangements with them in advance.
Keep in mind that most Red Cross shelters, and many state shelters, cannot accept pets. If you are going to one of these shelters, have a list of places that accept the pets of evacuated families, along with contact information and directions.
In the event that you have to be separated from your pets during an evacuation, find shelters, boarding kennels or veterinarians in the area that you plan to be staying that can take your pet temporarily. Your local emergency management office is a good source of this information.
Have a portable crate or carrier for your pets, along with a leash and reliable collar for use during travel. Keep in mind that you and your pets will both be stressed and anxious, and there is a risk that they’ll panic and try to escape.
Have your pets’ medications (in a waterproof container), and copies of their medical records, vaccination record and prescriptions.
Have a pre-written set of instructions and schedule for feeding your pet(s) and for administering any medications. You might be separated from them at some point and have them cared for at a different location than yours.
Have a sealed, airtight container with enough of their food to last while you anticipate being out of your home. Bring you pets’ food and water bowls.
Have your pets’ identification information, including microchip number and city registration, and a picture of you and your pet together (in case you are separated for any reason).
Have enough drinking water for you and your pet to last for a few days.
Comfort items: Bring the bedding and toys that you would normally provide if you were boarding your pet in a kennel for a few days. Bring poop bags and cleaning supplies/disinfectants. Bring your cat’s litter box and a bag of clean litter.
What to do if you cannot evacuate. How can you keep your pet safe if you must shelter in place?
Prepare a safe, closed, room where rescuers can find your animals. Make sure that it doesn’t have any escape routes or places where the animals can hide or get stuck.
Have you pet’s crate in that room, stock that room with the food and supplies mentioned above, along with any medications.
If you must leave your home but can’t take your pet. Here are some steps you can take:
Prepare the safe room as described above and leave the pet in it with accessible dry food and a lot of water. It will be a mess when you return, but that can be cleaned up afterwards.
Do not leave them outside, even in a run or pen. And absolutely do not turn them loose to fend for themselves.
The ASPCA recommends placing a notice on your door to alert police and rescuers that pets are inside.
A final note: These recommendations were obviously written with common household pets in mind. Large animals, such as horses, or exotic pets will require special care and planning for disasters that are outside my area of expertise. The ASPCA disaster preparedness site (below) has recommendations and resources for the owners of these animals.