What with tornado season bearing down on the South and the Midwest and earthquakes rumbling along any number of Western Hemisphere faults, most of us think now and again about emergency preparedness. While it’s crucial to get the people out harm’s way come flood, wind, wildfire, quake or terrorist, the televised sight of all the dogs and cats left behind in the New Orleans flood was heart-rending. Many shelters turn away pets, and even if you find a place that would let your bring your animal on principal, would they really accept your pit bull?
The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Act, signed into law in 2006 by President George W. Bush, requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency to accommodate domestic animals in its emergency and evacuation plans. The government has a disaster readiness site that advises citizens on emergency preparations. Even if you don’t keep a pet, the main page directs you to advice on stocking supplies and navigating your way through an emergency. Where your animals are concerned, a few ahead-of-time strategies can help.
• First, be sure your pet can be identified. Microchip the animal, and dress it in a collar with an ID tag.
• Plan to take your pet with you if you have to evacuate. However, bear in mind that few shelters will accept pets, and so you may have to make your own accommodations. Keep a list of nearby pet-friendly hotels in your emergency kit. Several websites provide leads to hotels and other amenities that allow dogs and cats; Dogfriendly.com is just one of them.
♦ Confirm in advance—now, not after a disaster strikes—that listed hotels actually do accept pets. And keep your list updated, as these policies may change.
♦ Map out several escape routes, and be sure your lists include pet-friendly lodgings in all the possible directions you might go.
• It’s also a wise idea to build a list of veterinarians and boarding kennels in nearby towns and cities. That way, should your pet be injured or get sick, you won’t have to scramble to find help once you’re out of harm’s way.
• When you prepare your own disaster kit, include first-aid and survival items to cover pets, too:
A supply of any meds your pet takes
Ample first-aid supplies
A carrier for each animal
An extra leash and collar for each pet
A week’s supply of bottled water for each pet
A week’s supply of food for each pet
Dishes to feed and water animals
A can opener
Dog beds and toys
Cat litter and box for cats; newspapers for dogs
• Some people suggest packing canned or moist pet food, as this reduces the pet’s need for water. Bear in mind that abruptly changing a dog’s diet can induce diarrhea, not something you want to have to deal with in a traffic jam. If you live in a disaster-prone area, it probably would be a good idea to feed the dog routinely with whatever you would want to take with you in an evacuation.
• Work a deal with a neighbor to care for or rescue each other’s pets if one person can’t get home during an emergency. Be sure your pets are familiar with these surrogate caregivers, and supply your neighbor with the same information you’ve created for yourself, let her or him know where you keep the pet emergency kit, and provide signed permission for veterinary and guidelines to financial limits for such care.
When a state of emergency begins, bring your pets indoors. If there’s a great deal of noise or other stressful conditions (as, for example, in a tornado), separate the animals so they do not harm each other in fear. If at all possible, crate each animal separately, and keep them crated if you have to evacuate.
After the emergency passes, keep an eye on your pets. Domestic animals are likely to be disturbed by changes in the environment, including scattered debris, puddles, and other aftermath. Wild animals, also, are highly disturbed and may appear in your yard, where they can confront your pets. Snakes and other creatures may be borne into your area on flood waters.
If you’re forced to leave your pet behind, secure the animal in the safest part of your house and be sure to leave an ample supply of fresh water—possibly twice as much as you think necessary—and plenty of dry food. Leave messages on your doors and windows letting rescue workers know pets are inside.
Have you had experiences with caring for pets during natural disasters or human-caused emergencies? What preparedness steps would you advise?
Image: Rescued dog hiding under a house. Katrina Dog Rescue.