I’m sure we all remember the stories of heartbreak and heroism that surfaced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina about the animal victims of the storm and those who came (or tried to come) to their rescue. As a direct result of the tragic tales of New Orleans residents that refused evacuation orders because it would have meant leaving behind beloved pets, FEMA now includes companion animals in official disaster planning.
That is, of course, a fantastic step forward, but as the recent string of deadly tornadoes and massive flooding in the Midwest and some southern states has proven, there is certainly still more work to be done to ensure that some of our most vulnerable family members will be safe and well-cared for in the event that disaster strikes. Undoubtedly, this begins with pet owners themselves.
First things first: every pet owner should have an emergency plan prepared for themselves and their pet that includes a place to stay that will accept companion animals. The single most important thing you can do to protect your pets in an emergency is to take them with you when you leave. Whether you’re headed to stay with an out-of-town friend or family member or a nearby hotel with a liberal pet policy, making sure that your pet will be welcome is important.
Next, the USHS recommends creating a disaster kit for your pets that is stored with or near any other emergency supplies you keep on-hand. This kit should include:
- A checklist of all your pets’ supplies and medical information
- Food and water for at least five days for each pet, bowls and a manual can opener if you are packing canned pet food
- Medications and medical records stored in a waterproof container and a first aid kit. A pet first aid book is also good to include
- Cat litter box, litter, garbage bags to collect all pets’ waste, and litter scoop
- Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and carriers to transport pets safely and to ensure that your pets can’t escape. Carriers should be large enough for the animal to stand comfortably, turn around and lie down
- Current photos and descriptions of your pets to help others identify them in case you and your pets become separated and to prove that they are yours
- Pet beds and toys, if you can easily take them, to reduce stress
Also, try to identify a close-by friend, neighbor or family member who can take care of your pet if you are away from home when something happens. Be sure to alert this person to the location of your pets’ disaster kit as well.
I recognize that this sounds a little crazeballs. Admittedly, I am overzealous about the health and safety of my dog, but I know I’m not alone in that – and that’s kind of the point, right? Me going to crazy lengths to protect my pet in the event of a disaster would be bad news for my own personal health and safety and that of my family, so it’s obviously important that considerations be made ahead of time to prevent that.
Of course, by their very nature, disasters are unpredictable and dangerous, so you can’t possibly plan for every scenario. Having some kind of basic plan in place though goes a long way in heading off tragedy. Check out this article from the Humane Society for a more comprehensive guide to disaster preparedness for pets.