The best way to protect your family from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan must include your pets. Being prepared can save their lives.
In the event of a disaster, if you must evacuate, the most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to evacuate them, too. Leaving pets behind, even if you try to create a safe place for them, is likely to result in their being injured, lost or worse. So, prepare now for the day when you and your pets may have to leave your home:
STEP 1 - Have a safe place to take your pets - Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of the health and safety regulations. Service animals that assist people with disabilities are the only animals allowed in Red Cross Shelters. It may be impossible to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead: Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on pets. Ask if "no pet" policies can be waived in an emergency. Keep a list of "pet friendly" places in your evacuation kit.
- Ask friends or relatives outside the affected area whether they could shelter your animals. If you have more than one pet, they may be more comfortable if kept together, but be prepared to house them separately.
- Prepare a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency; including 24 hour phone numbers.
- Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster. Animal shelters may be overburdened caring for animals they already have as well as those displaced by disaster, so this should be the last resort.
STEP 2 - Assemble a portable pet disaster supplies kit - Whether you are away from home for a day or a week, you'll need essential supplies. Keep items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily. Your pet disaster supplies kit should include:
- Medications and medical records (in waterproof containers) and a first aid kit.
- Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals can't escape.
- Current photos of your pets in case they get lost.
- Food, portable water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and can opener.
- Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
- Pet beds and toys, if transportable.
STEP 3 - Know what to do as a disaster approaches - Often, warnings are issued hours, even days, in advance. At the first hint of disaster, act to protect your pets.
- Call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets.
- Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies are ready to take at a moment's notice.
- Bring all pets into the house so you won't have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.
- Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars with securely fastened, up to date identification. Attach the phone number and address of your temporary shelter, or a friend or relative outside the disaster area. You can buy temporary tags or put tape on the back of your pet's ID tag, adding information with an indelible pen.
A final word - You may not be home when the evacuation order comes. Find out if a trusted neighbor would be willing to take your pets and meet you at a prearranged location. This person should be comfortable with your pets, know where your animals are likely to be, know where your pet disaster supplies kit is kept, and have a key to your home. If you use a pet sitting service, they may be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.
Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. But bear in mind that animals react different under stress. Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed. Transport cats in carriers. Don't leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off. The most trustworthy pets may panic, hide, or try to escape, bite or scratch. When you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines. Consult your veterinarian if any behavior problems persist.
If you must evacuate, do not leave your animals behind. Evacuate them to a prearranged safe location if they cannot stay with you during the evacuation period. If there is a possibility that disaster may strike while you are out of the house, there are precautions you can take to increase your pets' chances of survival, but they are not a substitute for evacuation with your pets.
For more information, contact The Humane Society of the United States, Disaster Services, 2100 L Street, N. W., Washington, DC 20037.