Pets in Disasters

This summer's news is full of disasters. Most recently tornadoes, wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes are on our minds.  Since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, pets in disasters has been a hot topic in emergency management circles. And we've heard a lot about pet rescued from disasters already this year.  Emergency responders cannot ignore the importance of the human/animal bond.  We love our pets like a member of our family, and many evacuees have refused to leave if Fluffy and Fido can't go as well. In 2006, President Bush signed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Act that requires state and federal emergency plans to accommodate household pets and service animals. State and federal government (as well as many local police departments, fire districts, and city administrations) are now working and preparing to keep our pets safe in emergencies, too.

Last week, I am attended a class to learn my state's plan and to continue training on how to keep pets safe and sound.  Currently, most evacuation shelters don't allow pets inside, pet owners need to be prepared to help with their own pets' shelter and care.  Fortunately, thanks to the Pets Act of 2006, pets are more likely to have a shelter, and often can be included in a sheltering plan with their family.  The trick is this... as disasters strike, these shelters will need to come together quickly.  Your part (as a pet owner) help your pet have a safe and complete go-bag ready to meet your pet's needs.  Here's how to start.

Each household pet needs their own kit:
A pet carrier (everyone gets their own), preferably a plastic, airline safe cage.
A week or more of food, dry plus cans (Keep some canned food on hand.  It is safe after exposure to a flood or pests.)
Two non-tippable bowls
Litter and box for each cat
Cats also need a large kennel that is large enough for a sleeping space, a litter box, and food and water.
Water for drinking and cleaning (This ranges from a gallon a week for each cat to a gallon a day for each large dog.)
Tags, collars, leashes, harnesses
Vaccination/medical records
Microchip and registration information
Photos of pets
Animal friendly evacuation plan
Waste bags

Temporary housing:
Plan ahead with friends or family to determine who is willing to help keep your pets for the days or weeks after a disaster.  (A friend recently had a house fire which was limited predominantly to the garage, she and her pets couldn't occupy the house for four months.) Know hotels that are pet friendly.  After a community disaster, most hotels are booked an hour or more away, but knowing pet policies ahead of time may help you know where to look and who to call.  Your local animal control, shelter, or humane society may help shelter displaced pets after a crisis. Be prepared to assist with the care of your animals.  You may be expected to provide most (or all) of the walking and cleaning duties for your own pet in a temporary shelter.

If your pet is lost:
Post, mail, and fax picture notices everywhere.
Check every shelter within an hour's drive personally.
Don't wait!  You have five days to identify your pet in a shelter, or it may be adopted out.  (After a disaster, shelters generally allow much longer, but better safe than sorry.)
Report your lost pet to shelters, veterinarians, and other animal agencies and businesses.
Offer a reward.

Keeping your pet safe daily:
Make sure your pet wears a collar and tag all the time.  In the US, collars are how we identify "owned" (and loved) animals.  A pet with no tag may be assumed "stray" and left alone.
If possible, keep your pet in a kennel (or a designated room) when you're not home, especially if your pet is skittish and likely to hide from storms, loud noises, or strangers in the house.
Keep your household smoke and carbon monoxide alarms working.  Consider an alarm system and let the managing company know what you need or expect for your animals in an emergency.
Keep leashes (and kennels) in a designated place for quick exit, preferably near the door.
Talk to your veterinarian about emergency medical care. Put the veterinarian's emergency number on the pet tags, too.
Make certain the phone number listed on animal tags and documents is one that you'll generally answer and has voicemail.  Cell numbers are often best. (In any case, make sure you remember which is listed and make arrangements to forward it if you and your phone are separated in an emergency.)
Microchip and register your pets.  (If you didn't register your pet, call the microchip company ASAP and register it now!  Same goes in an emergency, call right then.)

Related Posts
Getting Ready...
10 Things to Know about Flooding
Family Emergency Plan
Go Bag Part I - The Need

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