Four ways to help your pet through a natural disaster

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You’re asleep, when you’re awoken by the dreadful sound of your smoke detector. You round up your kids, your spouse, anyone who is in the house, and you all get out as soon as you can. What about Fluffy? Did someone help her out?

You’re watching the news and you see a category four hurricane headed your way. You gather your necessities, load up the car, and head for a landlocked city. Is there room for Buddy’s crate in your vehicle?

Your plans for the unthinkable – fire, tornado, flood, blizzard, hurricane – include meet-up places, safe rooms with bottled water and canned food, evacuation routes. But do they include your pets and their needs?

After Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the New Orleans area in 2005, some sources say more than 500,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of the storm. Similarly, 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 we never have to use a disaster plan, if you do, it’s vital to include your pets in it. Here are some items to consider:

1. Make a plan in advance and practice it

Decide who will carry your pets from the house in the event of a fire, and discuss what you will do if, say, you must climb out a second story window with your Great Dane. Make sure the whole family knows the plan and practice it, if possible. Bring your pets indoors at the first sign of trouble – keep an eye on weather alerts and the sky itself. Even a run-of-the-mill thunderstorm is reason to bring pets indoors, or at least into a garage.

Designate a safe room for, say, a tornado or for riding out a hurricane, and keep emergency supplies in that area. Those supplies should include your pet’s leash or carrier, in case your house sustains damage, and food, water, bowls and, if you have a cat, a litter box. If you have pets that need electricity, such as fish or reptiles, keep a backup power source for them.

If you have more time to prepare, such as for an oncoming hurricane, decide in advance where you will evacuate – a friend or family member’s home? A hotel? 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.

Mother Nature is unpredictable – you could end up unable to access your home due to floods or ice. Prepare for such a situation by giving 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. You can also get a free sticker from the ASPCA to alert first responders that you have pets inside. If you or a friend can get your pets, try to remove the sticker or write “Pets evacuated” on your door, so first responders don’t look for animals that aren’t there!

2. Prepare an emergency kit for your pet

Keep an emergency pet kit that includes:

  • Leashes and harnesses.
  • Bottled water.
  • Bowls (a couple of collapsible bowls would work well for this).
  • Cat litter and a pan (a cheap pan or even an aluminum baking pan is fine).
  • 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.
  • Your pet’s medications.

Keep this in your pet’s carrier so it’s ready to go if disaster strikes. If your area is prone to flooding, keep it in a waterproof container that floats instead. “Life hack” – can’t find a waterproof container that floats? Glue or wrap pool noodles around it!

It’s also wise to keep a current photo of your pet on you, just in case you get separated. Microchip your pet before disaster strikes and keep identification tags up to date.

3. Be prepared for your return home

When you return home, be patient and careful. When the fire, hurricane, tornado, or other disaster is over, your home may be a different place.

You might encounter fallen fences, missing doors or roofs, fallen trees. Familiar landmarks and smells may be gone, disorienting your pet. You might run into unknown animals – other people’s pets or local wildlife that are lost and confused as well. There may be dangerous debris that you don’t want your pet to step on or ingest. Your pet may be flat out scared.

All of this adds 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. Reassure your pets throughout the disaster and recovery period

Your pets are tuned into your stress and even to atmospheric changes. They may act out – crying, barking, chewing items they wouldn’t normally chew. They may even growl or bite you or other people. Be patient and calm with your pets. Give them love and attention, talk to them in a soothing voice, and give plenty of belly rubs and ear scratches. Be generous with treats. If you’re holed up in a hotel, try to find a nearby dog park to let them run off steam. If possible, keep their favorite toys or blankets with them.

Do not punish your pets – they are stressed, scared, and confused.

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.