No matter where you live, you are not immune to the effects of disasters, whether it is a blizzard, fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado or terrorist attack. Which is why it is important to have a disaster preparedness plan in place, and it must include your pets.
Good disaster planning takes every possibility into consideration. For example, if you are not home and a flood takes out a road leading to your home, who will care for your pets until you are able to get home? Make plans ahead of time by arranging for a trusted neighbour, who is frequently home, to check on the pets. This person should have a key to your home and know where the food and leads are kept.
Place an ‘in case of emergency’ sticker (sold at many pet stores) on doors and windows indicating the type of pets in the house and the number of them. This will help emergency workers know what to look for when searching homes following a disaster.
Warnings are often issued hours, sometimes even days, ahead of time. At the first sign of impending disaster, put your plan into effect.
Bring your pet indoors so you don’t have to search for them at the last minute and make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars with securely fastened and up-to-date identification tags.
Many disasters require you to evacuate your home, and perhaps your region, for an unknown amount of time. Just as you would not leave your children or spouse behind, you cannot leave behind your pet. “Even if you try to create a safe place for them, it is likely to result in their being injured, lost or worse,” according to the American Red Cross.
Another reason to not leave pets behind is those that are left inside can escape through storm-damaged areas such as broken windows, and these animals are left to fend for themselves likely to become victims of exposure, starvation, predators, contaminated water/food or accidents. “Leaving dogs tied or chained outside in a disaster is a death sentence,” according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Some disaster shelters will not accept animals, which is why you want to research housing options prior to a disaster striking.
Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check on their pet policies. If they do not take pets under normal circumstances, ask them what their policy is in case of disaster. Keep a list of the pet friendly locations with your other disaster provisions.
Ask friends and family members if they are able to shelter your animals on a temporary basis. Depending on the number, size and type of animals you have, you may need to house them separately.
Also check your local animal shelters to inquire about whether or not they take in animals under emergency circumstances. This should be your last resort, as they will be inundated with caring for the animals already there.
Other locations to check out, prior to the disaster are city halls. Emergency shelters may also be set up on fairground-type properties.
Portable Disaster Kit
Being forced to flee your home in chaotic circumstances can cause people to forget to pack some very important items such as medications. Make a kit beforehand and store it in an easy-to-remember and quick-to-reach location.
Items to include in your pet’s disaster kit are:
- medications and medical records
- first aid kit
- flea/tick powder/spray
- leashes, harnesses, collars, carriers
- food – enough for several days, as well as canned food (canned food contains water, which will enable the pet to drink less water, which may be at a premium)
- can opener
- cat litter and pan
- pet beds and toys (if easily transportable)
If you are unable to take your pet to your location, but have a safe place to house them, provide the caregivers with information on feeding (amounts and schedule), medical conditions, behavioural issues, as well as the name and contact information for your veterinarian and the area’s emergency clinic. Also include your contact information -where you are staying, phone number, mobile numbers. And provide the caregivers with a letter stating they are in care of your pets and have been given permission by you, the owner, to care for the pets.
If you do not or cannot evacuate, and have to ride the storm out in your house, identify a safe area in your home where you, your family and pets can all be together.
Keep dogs on leashes and ensure they are wearing collars with proper ID tags. Have all medications, pet food and water inside airtight containers, along with other emergency supplies.
After the Storm
Your home will most likely be a very different place following the disaster. For the first few days, keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers inside the house. If your home is damaged they could escape and become lost. “Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone and your pet will probably be disoriented,” according to the HSUS.
Try to return to a regular routine as quickly as possible and be prepared for possible behavioural changes as a result of stress from the situation.