It’s a scenario none of us want to consider but too many have faced recently: what to do with your pets in case of a natural disaster.
The news tells us how to prepare for emergencies, but oftentimes, this advice is focused on helping humans survive. However, many of us have furry members of our family that need help and protection too, and knowing what to do before, during, and after an emergency can help to insure that both you and your pet come out of the disaster safe—and most importantly, together.
BEFORE THE EVENT
First things first: in case of a natural disaster, make sure your pet has an ID tag and, if possible, is microchipped. Ensure that identification tags on pets’ collars have current information. It’s a good idea to use your cellphone on the tag, as mobile phones will be more likely to function than landlines. If possible, it’s also a good idea to include the number of a trusted friend or relative who lives outside your immediate area in case of evacuation.
Microchipping is always a smart idea, but can be especially useful in emergencies where you could be separated from your pet. Almost all veterinarians can microchip your pet for around $50 and below, and the process is as fast as a vaccination and is generally only as painful to pets as having their blood drawn—just a small pinch. It is vital to make sure that you register your pet’s microchip and keep it up to date with any new addresses or telephone numbers, because if the information is out of date, there might be no way to contact you in the event of separation. It’s also a good idea to include contact information for an emergency contact outside your area in your registration, just like with your pet’s ID tag. If you register the chip and keep all information current, and your pet is taken to a veterinarian or shelter during an emergency, it will be that much easier to reunite pet and owner after the event.
The ASPCA also recommends putting a rescue sticker near your front door to alert rescuers or volunteers during an event that you have pets in your house. These stickers can be ordered for free from the APSCA’s website (order time is 6-8 weeks), and can sometimes be found in local pet supply stores as well. You should include the number and types of pets in the house, as well as your veterinarian’s information. You can also include your out-of-area emergency contact as well. If you are forced to evacuate your home during an event, make sure to write “EVACUATED” on the sticker so that rescue workers will know that you and your pets have left the premises.
Before a natural disaster occurs, it’s important for you to have a plan for where you could take your pets. It’s important to remember that if it’s not safe for you to stay somewhere, it’s not safe for your pet to stay there either. Unfortunately, not all evacuation shelters will take pets (note: service animals are not included in the “no pets” policy), so it is important that you identify ahead of time places where you and your furry friends can go. To do this, you can talk to your veterinarian for a list of their preferred kennels and facilities; talk to your local animal shelter to see if they will provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets; find local hotels and motels that will accept pets; or find trusted friends or relatives outside the impact zone that could take your pet during the event. Once you have all the facts, it’s a great idea to keep a list of pet-friendly places handy so that you don’t have to struggle to find a place when disaster strikes. The following list of websites is a great resource, because they can help you prepare and pre-identify pet-friendly locations:
Unfortunately, sometimes natural disasters can strike with no warning, and sometimes we’re not with our pets when the worst happens. In this case, it’s important to find someone who can be a temporary caregiver until you can be reunited with your furry babies. Ideally, this would be someone who you trust, who lives close to your residence, and who is generally home during the time that you aren’t. Give a set of keys to this individual so that they can access your house in case of emergency, and make sure that your pets are familiar with them. You want to choose someone that you know will be a good caregiver, and it may even work best to find a temporary caregiver that has pets of their own that you can swap responsibilities with.
Finally, one of the best ways to prepare for a natural disaster is to put together an emergency kit, just in the same way that you would for the human members of your family. The Red Cross and ASPCA recommend keeping an emergency kit with enough leashes by the front door with the following items:
· 3-7 days worth of canned with a can opener or dry food, along with 3-7 days of water
· Water and food bowls
· Pet first aid kit
· Two weeks supply of medications and copies of relevant medical records, information on feeding schedules, behavioral problems, and the name/number of your veterinarian stored in a waterproof bag
· Disposable litter trays and litter if you have cats
· Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
· A travel carrier, ideally one for each pet
· Toys and chew toys for dogs
· Current photos of you with your pets, and pre-made “Missing” printouts in case you get separated
It is important that you make sure to you rotate the food and medication every so often so that nothing goes bad and you can be ready to go, stress-free, if the situation arises.
DURING THE EVENT
If it’s not safe for you to stay at home, then it’s not safe for your pet to stay at home. It’s not possible to know how long you might be forced to be away from your home when you leave, and therefore no way to know when or if you would be able to go back for your lovable companion. Therefore, if you leave, don’t leave your pets behind.
It’s also best to evacuate early. Don’t wait until the last minute, because some people who have waited until forced to leave by emergency officials have been told they must leave their pets behind. Also, depending on the type of natural disaster you could be facing, the situation could make your pet stressed and difficult to get into their crate—this means that evacuating before the situation becomes too severe will make everyone safer and less stressed.
If you do decide to stay in your house during a natural disaster, then make sure to make your space as safe as possible. The Humane Society recommends the following:
· Close off unsafe nooks and crannies where frightened cats may hide
· Lock away any dangerous items such as tools or toxic products
· Bring your pets indoors as soon as you’re notified that trouble is on the way and make sure all identification tags are on your pets
· If you can have a room that can be made into a “safe room”, put your emergency kit and any other emergency supplies in there in advance and use it to hole up in
· Make sure to close off fireplaces, vents, or pet doors
· Listen to the radio and let your pet out until you know it’s safe
AFTER THE EVENT
If you and your pet make it through the emergency without getting separated, there are a few things you can do to help ease their stress afterwards. First of all, don’t allow your pets to roam loose. Their familiar sights and smells could have been wiped away, and they can become lost or disoriented. Also, make sure you keep your dogs on leashes or cats in carriers inside your house, especially while you’re inspecting for damage. There could be damage in places that would allow your pets to escape, so it’s best to keep them controlled or contained until you know for certain everything is safe and secure. Thirdly, be sure to be patient with your pet after a disaster. Their behavior could change drastically change due to the stress of the situation, and it could take a while for them to calm down. Make sure to try to get them on their normal routine and schedule as soon as possible, and if any problems persist, make sure to contact your veterinarian. Finally, if floods have affected your community, make sure to check out your home for any wild animals that may have used your house as a safe space during the event. If you find any wildlife in your house, be sure to contact the appropriate authorities to have them removed humanely.
If you and your pets do get separated during a natural disaster, there are certain things that you can do to try to be reunited. Once you and your family get to safety, you can start handing out your pre-made missing pet handouts, and if you are in a shelter that takes pets, make sure to inform the caretakers that you’re looking for your lost animal. Once you can return home, contact animal control to see if they have any information. You should also get in touch with the shelters in the area to see if they have found your pet, or would have any other resources for you to use in your search. We also saw after Hurricane Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, respectively, that people are using social media to locate their pets after natural disasters. If you’re able to, Facebook and Twitter can be a great way to connect and communicate with people in your area that might have picked up your pets or who can help you spread the word in your search.
In the End, Be Prepared
No one wants to think about the idea of being separated from their furry friends in the event of a natural disaster. We love our pets like members of our family, and we don’t ever want to see harm come to them or face life without them. The best way to help mitigate the risks that an emergency can bring to you and your family, both human and animal, is to be as prepared as possible. Thinking about this can be scary, but it is scarier to face a natural disaster while unprepared. Be alert and be ready, and you’ll be one step closer to keeping all the members of your family safe when disaster strikes.
· To order an ASPCA rescue sticker, click here.