Disasater Planning for Pets

Public shelters set up for the community during disasters will not, as a rule, accept pets. If you wait until the last moment to evacuate, you may have no choice but to go to a public shelter. If such a situation should force you to leave your pets behind, please prepare your children and other family members for the fact that their pets may not survive or may be irretrievably lost before you are able or permitted to return to your home. There is no way to know how long it will be before you are permitted back after the storm.

It's also dangerous to lock them into a room, basement or cage, because unless you do return soon, they will starve to death. If rescue workers make a sweep of your damaged neighborhood, and your pet has been left alone too long with no food or water, they will be too weak to bark (cats don't "speak up") and may not be found.

In other cases, frightened animals may slip out open doors, broken windows or other damaged areas of your home opened by the storm. Released pets are likely to die from exposure, starvation, predators, contaminated food and water, or on the road where they can endanger others. Even normally friendly animals of different species should not be allowed together unattended, since the stress of the storm may cause distinct behavior changes.

Remember: If you must evacuate, conditions are not only unsafe for you, but unsafe for other living creatures as well.

Develop your written plan now

A written disaster plan will help you and your pets survive. Identify your evacuation zone and level to determine if and when you would have to evacuate. If you are located in a storm surge area or flood plain, or in the path of a tornado, the decision to evacuate will depend on the category of the storm and on broadcast reports or warnings to do so. Always prepare for a worse emergency than is expected. If things do get worse, you won't have time to change your plans.

Evacuation information, as well as additional preparedness guidelines, may be obtained from your local Emergency Management office.

Your goal should be to evacuate to a safe location close to home, if possible. Long-distance evacuation is not recommended as highways will be crowded. Friends or relatives in a safe area are your best choice. The comfort of knowing you are safe together far outweighs any inconvenience. If they are unable to house both you and your animals, arrange shelter for your animals at a veterinary office or kennel close to your evacuation location so you will be able to have as much contact with them as possible. You and your pets will fare better if you are together.

If you plan to go to a motel, determine in advance whether pets are welcome and what, if any, special rules may apply. When you have determined a safe location for your evacuation, assist the host property owner in developing their disaster plan!

If you must evacuate

Leave early. An unnecessary trip is far better than waiting too long to leave safely.

All animals should have secure carriers or collapsible cages as well as collars, leashes, rabies tags, and identification tags. Carriers should be large enough for the animals to stand comfortably and turn around. Train your pets to become familiar with their carriers ahead of time. Then the carrier will be a secure and comforting refuge if the animal is required to live in it for days, or even weeks, after the storm.

Before tornado season begins in the spring or summer, make sure all your pets have current immunizations, and remember to take their records with you if you must evacuate.

Photograph each of your pets before the storm season each year and include these photos with your immunization records.

Your pet survival kit should include ample food for 2 weeks, water and food bowls, medications if needed, specific care instructions (in case you will not be the one caring for them), newspapers and plastic bags for waste, brushes, combs and other hygiene items, toys, other comfort items (a special blanket, for example), muzzles if necessary. A manual can opener is a necessity. All belongings should be marked with identification. If you are not evacuating your animals to a commercial facility, you should also include first aid supplies for your pets in their survival kit.

Take first aid and CPR courses and keep the manuals handy. The same basic priniciples apply to animals as to humans. Ask your vet for an emergency care pamphlet.

If you plan to shelter your pets at a kennel or clinic, call before evacuating to determine if space is available. Allow sufficient time to travel from the kennel to your evacuation location after making certain that your animals are secure.

If you have exotic pets, contact local pet stores or appropriate experts for assistance in sheltering your special pet. Again, be prepared to supply appropriate housing for the pet (not glass) and other supplies necessary to sustain that pet for at least 2 weeks.

The facility you choose should be operated by knowledgeable and capable staff and the location should be high, dry and of sturdy construction.

Throughout the evacuation and the storm, your pets will need reassurance from you if you can be available. Remain calm, keep as close to their normal routine as possible for feedings, etc., and speak to them regularly in a calm, reassuring voice.

If you can stay home

It is just as important to adequately plan for your pets even if you don't have to evacuate. Carriers, collars with ID tags and leashes should be maintained for your pets at all times.

Your pets will be most comfortable and secure in their carriers in a safe area of your home until the storm has passed. If they are not secured during the storm and your house is damaged, your pets may escape and become disoriented, since normal landmarks and scent trails could be obliterated. If your pets become lost, proper ID will help to ensure their return to you.

Place your pet food and medications in water tight containers in a cool, dry, dark place. Store adequate water for them also. Your water source may become contaminated during the storm. (Water can be purified a number of ways. If possible, boil it. If not, add either food grade hydrogen peroxide, or common household bleach - 2 drops per quart - and let stand 30 minutes before use.)

If you bring plants into the home before a storm, be careful not to allow pets access to them since many ornamental plants are toxic to animals.

After the storm

Walk your pets on a leash until they become re-oriented to their home. CAUTION: Downed power lines and other debris can pose real dangers to you and your pets. Do not allow pets to approach these hazards, and do not allow them to consume food or water which may have become contaminated. Be extremely careful when using candles or oil lamps, especially around pets (and children). Never leave them unattended.

When you know you have done everything you can do to protect all members of the family, disaster preparedness will give you tremendous peace of mind.

Be critical of your plan, review and update it regularly with your family's input and participation so they are familiar with it also.

Copyright 2009 - Dr. RJ Peters 
The Problem Cat