How to include your pets in a natural disaster preparedness plan

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Whether your area is prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, or floods, you likely already have a natural disaster plan in place: a family communication plan, a meet-up space, and a supply of bottled water and canned food. But have you considered your pets’ well-being in your plan?

After Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the New Orleans area in 2005, an estimated 15,000 pets were rescued by the New Orleans SPCA, and about 90,000 area pets were never accounted for. Some sources say more than 500,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of the storm.

Similarly, too many pets were separated from their families during Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Texas in 2017 and the Smoky Mountain wildfires in late 2016. Many displaced pets were never reunited with their families.

While we hope to avoid other natural disasters, we know we can’t count on mother nature behaving. That makes it vital to know how to keep your pets calm during a natural disaster, how to include them in your evacuation or safety plans, and what you should keep on hand for when disaster strikes.

1. Include your pets in your disaster plan.

Every home should have a plan for fire or other sudden disaster, such as an earthquake or tornado. This includes various escape routes and/or a safe meeting place. Include your pets in this plan.

Assign someone to carry your pets from the house, and discuss what you will do if, say, you must climb out a second story window with your Great Dane. Come up with a plan before disaster strikes, write it down, be sure the entire household knows it, and even practice it, if possible. Bring your pets indoors at the first sign of trouble – keep an eye on weather alerts and the sky itself.

If you need to run to a safe room, keep emergency supplies in that area, including your pet’s leash or carrier. If you hide in a basement during a tornado and your house becomes damaged, you don’t want to look in the rubble for a leash, nor do you want your pet bolting.

For a natural disaster in which you have more time to prepare, such as an oncoming hurricane, know to where you will evacuate – a landlocked family member’s home? A hotel? The destination plays a big role in what you do with your pets. A family member may allow you to bring your dog and cat, while a hotel may not. Investigate available evacuation routes before disaster strikes.

If you can’t bring your pets to your evacuation spot, find an alternative for them, such as a boarding kennel in the city to which you evacuate, or a friend or family member who can take your pets with them instead. Do not leave your pet alone in your home if you can help it.

Of course, it may be out of your control. Prepare for a situation in which you can’t go home to get your pet, such as flash flooding or icy roads that precede a blizzard. Give a trusted neighbor or nearby friend a key to your house and task them with evacuating or feeding your pets in the event that you can’t get to them.

2. Prepare an evacuation kit

We can’t always predict what will happen – if your home is victim to a freak tornado, you can’t be expected to see it coming. But if you live in Tornado Alley or along the Gulf Coast, you should be aware of the kinds of disasters to which the area is prone.

If you do live in such an area, keep an emergency pet kit that includes:

  • Leashes and harnesses
  • Food
  • Bottled water
  • Bowls (a couple of collapsible bowls would work well for this)
  • Cat litter and a pan
  • Manual can opener if your pet eats canned food
  • Travel ID tag, to update with current lodging and contact number
  • Copies of medical records in a waterproof bag along with your vet’s contact information and a list of medical conditions and feeding schedules. This helps if you must board your pet.
  • Medications your pet needs.

Keep this in your pet’s carrier so it’s all in one spot, ready to go if disaster strikes. If your area is prone to flooding, keep it in a waterproof container instead. Consider wrapping pool noodles around the container so it will float in a flood and be easy to find.

It’s also wise to keep a current photo of your pet on you, just in case you get separated. Microchip your pet at your veterinarian before disaster strikes and keep identification tags up to date. You can also get a free sticker from the ASPCA to put on your door to tell first responders whether you have any pets inside. If you evacuate with your pet, try to remove this sticker or write “pets evacuated” on it or your door before you leave.

3. Remember the danger isn’t over after the storm (literal or figurative) passes

When the fire, hurricane, tornado, or other disaster is over, your home may be a different place.

Your fence may be gone, your home may be damaged, familiar landmarks and smells may be gone. Other people’s pets may have escaped during the event and could pose a danger to your pets if they are lost and scared. The local wildlife may be disoriented and show up in residential areas. There may be dangerous debris that you don’t want your pet to step on or ingest. Your pets may be disoriented and scared and more likely to run away.

All of these elements add up to a dangerous environment for your pets. If possible, leave your pets in a safe place while you do an initial assessment. If you must bring them with you, keep them in carriers or on a reliable leash so they don’t leave your sight.

4. Comfort your pets.

Give your pets plenty of love and attention. Talk to them in a soothing voice, give lots of belly rubs and ear scratches, and maybe a few extra treats. If possible, when you evacuate, bring along favorite toys or blankets to remind them of home.

Most importantly, do not punish your pets when they become scared, even if their fear causes them to scratch you, chew on items they normally wouldn’t chew, or bark and cry. You must understand that your fur babies are stressed and scared – their humans are tense, they may be moved to a new home, and they may even be able to sense the natural disaster before it happens. As scary as a natural disaster can be for you, it may be twice as scary for your pets.

We can’t always anticipate disasters. Plan now to maximize the outcome for your family and your pets. Call us for information on microchipping and other disaster preparedness.