How to Prepare Your Pets for a Disaster Evacuation
By: Andrea Brownstein, LVT
Fall means extreme weather in some parts of the country, and it's every family’s worst nightmare when local officials have recommended or require an evacuation due to an incoming weather event. Organizing the human members of your family can be complicated enough, but add in pets and everything that goes along with them and it can be overwhelming. Let’s look at ways you can prepare for such events and what you can expect along the way.
It’s always best to be prepared at home prior to any event. This means in addition to having an ample amount of food and portable water on hand, be sure to have enough medications for your pet to last at least 2 weeks. Although it is always a good idea to have these items on hand, it is extra important to have these during extreme weather seasons. Know your local risks year round. Even if you are not normally in the pathway of hurricanes, you may be in a tornado-prone area, or a flood-prone region. The type of weather event you prepare for will affect how you prepare.
If you are in a tornado area, and have your own basement or cellar to evacuate to, you may just want to store your pet’s extra supplies down there year round. If you are in a hurricane zone, its best to have a container that you keep extra supplies in that can be quickly placed in your vehicle for an evacuation.
Whether evacuating or not, properly identifying your pets is key. In the best of situations, we can become separated from our pets, and during a disaster, the risks increase. Microchips are ideal, but in addition to those, tags that are secured to collars are a great visual cue to rescuers that this is an owned pet. Since collars can come off, grease pens can be used to write your phone number and name directly on your pets.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many states changed their laws regarding pets and people in shelters together. Talk to your veterinarian now, before there is an issue and make a plan based upon your local laws. If your state does not have laws that are provisioned for this type of sheltering, you may want to think about evacuating early.
Ask friends or family within driving distance but outside of the danger zone if they would be willing to take you and your pets in should there be an emergency. In addition to this, it is always good to map out hotels that are pet friendly. Having this information ahead of time will make everything easier if the time comes to evacuate. As soon as you hear that there is a warning, call and make those reservations. You can always cancel if needed.
Leave yourself plenty of time to get out of the area. Traffic can be stressful for everyone in the family, and road closures can make it even more difficult to get to where you are going.
If you are unable to evacuate, be prepared for what may happen next. Some rescuers may allow you to bring your pets. If they do, be prepared to have your pet housed separately from your family. During Katrina, several non-profit groups were able to set up shelters in close proximity to human shelters, so owners could visit their pets. In other cases, pets were taken to a shelter far away.
In some cases, unfortunately, rescuers are unable to evacuate pets at all. The officials’ primary job is to rescue you and other disaster survivors. Although this can be scary, it is important to remember that these people are there to save you, no matter what. If this occurs, be sure to leave food and water where it can be accessed by your pet until you are able to return. Identification will help animal rescuers get your pet back to you as soon as they can. Hopefully these cases will be few and far between, but it is another reminder why it is important to evacuate swiftly and safely when bad weather is headed your way.
There are many non-profit agencies as well as government teams in place to help your pets during disasters. These are people who understand your bond with your pets. They will do everything in their power to help keep them safe and reunite them with their families, but they cannot do it alone. Create a plan to help you and your family to stay secure and prepared in the event of a disaster.
About the author, Andrea:
As a member of National Veterinary Response Team (NVRT) under Health and Human Services for over 11 years, Andrea has had the opportunity to be on the frontlines of the relief efforts for several events, including Hurricane Katrina. Her team is comprised of dedicated Veterinarians, Licensed Veterinary Technicians, logistics and communications staff as well as many others. This team spends their time off from their full time positions to train in all types of scenarios, to help you and your pets in the event of a disaster.