Why You Need an Emergency Plan For Your Pet
In a disaster, your animal companions will need to rely on you to keep them safe. Are you prepared?
Residents of the Gulf who were forced to leave their pets behind in Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago thought they’d be reunited with their furry family members within hours or days. But most of the one million folks displaced by the storm didn’t get back home for a month or more. Sadly, many of their estimated 250,000 pets died or were lost.
Dick Green, DVM, current senior director of disaster response for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), was there as part of the massive multi-organization team that went house-to-house rescuing dogs, cats, birds and other animals that survived the storm and later reuniting some with their owners.
“In fifteen years of doing disaster relief, the number one thing I’ve heard from pet owners is, ‘I never expected it to happen to me,’” says Green, who also managed animal rescue and relief efforts after the Japanese tsunami and Hurricane Irene as part of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
According to Green, everyone who has pets should include them in their family disaster plan. Here’s what he suggests.
Have a place to go if you and your pets are displaced. Since Katrina, when some people lost their lives because they refused to leave their pets behind, many emergency officials around the country have amended disaster plans to accommodate animals (but mostly just dogs and cats).
“During Hurricane Sandy, all shelters in New York City were pet-friendly, but it’s not the case everywhere,” adds Green. “Work out a plan with someone else today, because you don’t know when that tree is going to fall and you need to know where you and your pets can go.”
Identify two or three friends or family members outside your area who could care for your pets (and you). Green also advises creating a list of pet-friendly hotels and motels, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals where your pet can go in a disaster.
Related: How to Choose a Reliable Pet Sitter
Create a buddy system. Team up with friends or neighbors to make sure someone will evacuate your pets if you can’t.
Pack your pet’s “bags.” Have a kennel ready for each animal in your house. Label each clearly with the pet’s name and your name and contact information. In a water-tight container or plastic bag, put a copy of your pet’s medical records, extra medications and a list of what the pet should and shouldn't eat. Add a photo in case you need to make a “lost pet” poster. Also keep on hand sanitation products such as cardboard litter pans and a gallon of cat litter, plastic trash bags and bleach.
Set aside a food supply. Store enough food and water in airtight containers to sustain your pet for a minimum of 72 hours, but preferably for up to seven days. “Most disasters are in the three-to-five day range,” says Green. Rotate out stored food every two months.
Keep ID info up-to-date. Make sure the tags on your pet’s collar display your current contact information and the animal’s rabies record. Even better, have your pet microchipped. If your pet had a chip implanted by a previous owner, make sure that it’s your name, not the former owner’s, on the national registry, says Green.
Have a first aid kit handy. “I’ve never found any situation I couldn’t handle with a human first aid kit,” says Green. Still, it’s a good idea to ask your vet if you should include any special supplies for your pet. Also, buy an animal first aid reference book to keep with the kit.
Download the ASPCA’s disaster preparedness app to your mobile phone. It provides advice on what to do with your pet before, during, and after a major storm that you can access even if you lose your Internet connection. The app also allows you to store and manage your pet’s health records and features a lost pet digital flyer you can share on social media, as well as a lost pet guide with steps you can take to quickly reunite with your animal companion.