June 5, 2013: Emergency Evacuation Preparedness for Pets

~by Susi Pittman


All of us are guilty of the “not me” train of thought, when it comes to the idea of a natural or man-made disaster disrupting our lives. Tornadoes, floods, fires, hurricanes, gas leak or chemical spills very often occur without much warning, if any. We don’t like to think about terrible things happening to us, so we tend to send it back to the inactive regions of our mind. But, what if it does happen to us, what if everything we love and hold dear is threatened with the possibility of death? What about the pets we love who are part of our family circle?

Disaster preparedness saves more than human lives it also saves the lives of those other family members endowed with fur, feather or scale. Too often, even those who plan for the potential of dealing with a disaster will not take into consideration how they will handle the needs of the family pet/s. In the face of disaster when danger is imminent is not the time to plan.

You start by assembling an animal evacuation plan. So you first must honestly ask yourself some important questions:

1. Do you plan to take your pets with you or are you going to seek shelter arrangements?

2. Are your pet’s inoculations up-to-date?

3. Do you have livestock that will require a safe housing location?

4. Will relatives or friends be involved in the process of harboring your pets?

5. Can you transport safely all of your animals?

6. What if you are not home when disaster strikes, what are your alternative plans?

7. Do you have emergency stickers identifying animals on the property for rescue personnel?

8. Will a neighbor be responsible and have you given them a pre-signed letter that releases them from responsibility should your animal become injured during the evacuation?

There is so much to be concerned with. If you plan to take your pets with you, we offer the following tips:

Dog and cat owners, it is important that your pet has a current identification and/or rabies license tag attached to a collar. Should you and your pet become separated, these identification tags will help insure a quick reunion. Many Wal-Mart stores contain a metal tag printing machine that allows you to print a pet identification tag for under $5.00. Be sure your larger pet is securely leashed. Plan on a two-week supply of food and water and be sure to have a manual can opener. In an envelope have your pet’s medical records, a pet picture for identification and your contact information along with all the emergency contact numbers you deem important. Include your pet’s favorite toys, a first aid kit, paper towels, trash bags and litter.

You will also need to have a way to properly transport your pet, be it in a carrier or crate. These should be large enough to allow your pet to stand and turn around. If considering to shelter your pet, most shelters are operating over capacity and your pet may have to remain in its carrier for long periods. Whereas dogs can be walked, cats cannot, so your cat carrier should be large enough to contain a litter box.

If you are planning on sheltering your pet it is absolutely necessary that your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date as most boarding facilities will not accept your pet without them. Now is the time to check with your local county emergency management office to verify if there will be a pet-friendly shelter in your area. Pet shelters fill up quickly on a first come, first serve basis. Call ahead of the storm and determine availability. Public shelters do not allow pets. However, the Red Cross does allow service animals for disabled persons.

Contact friends and relatives about the possibility of taking in your pet. Consider surveying boarding kennels or veterinarian clinics in different areas of your state to compile a list of those that would be a safe-haven for your pet during a disaster. If you still cannot locate a shelter in your area, you will need to consider taking your pet with you.

Taking your pet with you also comes with its own measure of preparation. Animals sense the heightened anxiety that you feel as well as the change in the natural elements or the nature of the emergency evolves. Be prepared to handle your pet’s anxiety with as much calm as you can muster. Be reassuring as you go about your evacuation plan. If you do not have family or friends to stay with, it is certain you will be looking for a pet-friendly hotel. A great place to start looking is online at Pet Friendly.com where you can find pet welcoming hotels and motels. Be sure to check for restrictions on size and number. Many times a “no pet” policy or restrictions are waived in an emergency.

Exotic pets like parrots, ferrets, reptiles and fish are more sensitive to environmental changes and should really be placed with friends or a shelter outside the threatened area. Be very cognizant to packing the pertinent necessities for these pets. Birds should be in a secure covered carrier and exotic pets should be in “escape proof” containers. Include necessary dietary needs and supplements, cage or container bedding, toys, a heating source and gloves.

A quick checklist as you prepare to evacuate is essential to a smooth transition in exiting your home. Bring along your pets collar and identification, medications and updated photos in the event your pet gets lost. To ease your pets anxiety also bring along a familiar toy, the pet’s bed or blanket. You should include plastic bags and scoopers, cat litter, bird seed and food bowls with at least a two-week supply of water and food and a MANUAL can-opener. The aftermath of a disaster can leave an enormous amount of devastation and returning home may not be possible right away.

Horse and livestock owners are also encouraged to have an evacuation and shelter plan. It is a rule of thumb that trailing animals out of harms way should take place 72 hours if possible, so not to jeopardize the possibility of getting caught in evacuation traffic. Horses and other livestock should have at least a 7-10 day supply of food and water, taking into consideration that a 1000-lb. horse should have 5 gallons of water a day. Veterinarian records, halters and leads, trash bags, water buckets and rope are necessities for your evacuation kit. Have some identification means for your animal. For horses consider a halter tag, tattoo, leg band, and mane clip or neck collar. For cattle, goats and the like, ear tags, neck chain, or a back or tail chain. You can even shave information in your animal’s hair.  You may need to rent a trailer or truck to haul your livestock. Take time now to reserve whatever trailer needs you might have, chances of it being available when the danger is close is nil. It is best to take the time to acclimate your animal to the trailer it will be carried in to avoid having a frightened and unruly animal who could force you to leave it behind. The time to introduce your horse to a trailer is not in the face of impending disaster, when it senses your fear and approaching danger.  If you choose to place your livestock in a safe facility, then start now in locating a facility out of harms way. If you do not have friends or relatives to harbor you and your livestock, check with your local veterinarian for suggestions or even go to Craig’s List online to look for potential shelters.

A crucial time to monitor your pet is after the emergency passes. Returning home is a time or re-orientation. Familiar scents and landmarks may be virtually changed and your pet may be confused with the new environment. It is a good idea to leash your dogs and keep cats inside for a few days. Power lines can be down and dangerous wildlife or materials, reptiles and/or debris could pose a threat. During the daylight hours, release horses and livestock into a safe enclosed area. Allow your pets to become re-oriented to their surroundings. Your pets eating and sleeping habits may be interrupted from the stress and trauma of the disaster experience. Allow them to receive as much sleep as they want and feed them with smaller food servings if they have been without food for a prolonged period of time. They need their adjustment time too.

Make your phone calls now to secure your pet evacuation plans. Pack a plastic storage container for safe keeping ahead of time and include your pet photos, leashes, immunization papers, food, paper, plastic and utensil items that will be necessary for each pet. Then you can grab and go when the time comes. If you do not need to evacuate you’ve lost nothing as all items can be used and you have certainly kept peace of mind.

Creating an evacuation plan now for your pet family members will give you the head start to success and survival that will keep all the family together in good times or bad. Take responsibility for making sure your family and your pet are safe from danger. Don’t delay, prepare now.

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Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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