Just over 10 years ago, Florida was hit by four successive hurricanes over a period of only six weeks. I see reminders of these storms nearly every day when I walk along the Intracoastal Waterway just steps from my front door. When Hurricane Charley hit here in 2004 with its 85 mph winds and surging waters, it lifted piers right off their pilings and deposited them in pieces on nearby front lawns. Many residents never rebuilt their piers, so only the pilings, and a few shells of boathouses, remain, sober reminders of the power of these monster storms.
More recently, of course, the much-heralded arrival of Hurricane Matthew was yet another reminder that we need to take any threat of these storms seriously. Emergencies can happen any time and anywhere, of course; and as pet owners, we need to know how to protect our pets. Whether it’s fire or flood, tornado or earthquake, summer hurricane or winter Nor’Easter, or even just a power outage in the heat of summer, our pets depend on us to take care of them. This means knowing what to do ahead of time.
There are lots of preparation tips on websites like the American Red Cross, The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA and even FEMA. I have studied them all and condensed their advice below. While every family and every emergency is unique, there are basic steps you need to take to be sure your pet survives.
Expect the Unexpected, and Be Ready
1. To stay or to go
This is your first decision. In a weather emergency, look to TV, radio or Internet for local information. You should be prepared both to stay in your home and to evacuate. If you must evacuate, be prepared to take your pet with you! Remember: if it’s not safe for you, it’s not safe for your pet. Know ahead of time how you will gather your pets and where you will go (see #5).
2. Get good advice
The ASPCA has an Emergency Preparedness Guide for Pet Owners that you can download online -- helpful information in a compact and printable form. FEMA also has a special site devoted to preparing for a variety of emergencies.
3. Get Some Rescue Alert Stickers
You should have door and window decals that alert rescue personnel that there are pets in the house. You can get an ASPCA rescue alert sticker free, along with a Pet Safety Pack; but you will need several. Search for “pet alert stickers” on Amazon or try your local pet supply store. Be sure there’s room for two phone numbers: yours and your vet’s.
4. ID your pet!
Talk to your vet about the best way to ID your pet in case she gets lost, in an emergency or otherwise. Micro-chipping is a popular (and permanent) option, but there are others.
5. Locate a Safe Haven.
If you should have to evacuate, you need to know what your options are ahead of time.
Check your local office of emergency management to locate shelters. Ask if they will receive pets. If not, look for other options.
Look for pet-friendly hotels and motels outside your immediate area. As soon as you know you may have to leave your home, call and make a reservation. You'll find some helpful links at the end of our article on pet-friendly hotels. You and your pet will find some tips on how to be good hotel guests as well!
Find a friend or relative who is willing to take in you and your pets.
Other possibilities to check out: your pet sitting service, local animal shelters, kennels or veterinary hospitals. Ask your vet for recommendations.
Keep all these phone numbers handy!
6. Make your own Emergency Survival Kit
Whether an emergency requires you to evacuate or not, you should have an emergency kit ready. It should be portable, in secure containers and readily accessible. Everyone in your family should know where it is. There is a large selection on-line, but they can be pricey. You probably already have some of the necessary supplies on hand, so you may prefer to create your own. If that’s your best option, here’s what the ASPCA recommends, with a few modifications. Be sure to review the contents regularly – every two months – to be sure medicines and foods are fresh and documents are up to date.
- Pet first-aid kit (see below)
- A week's worth of canned food (choose pop-up cans, unless you want to pack a can opener) or dry food (be sure to rotate food every two months; dry food is especially apt to turn rancid or attract bugs)
- A spoon for canned food
- Disposable kitty litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)
- Scoop-able litter for a week
- Doggie poop bags
- Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
- Disposable garbage bags for clean-up
- Pet feeding dishes
- Extra collar or harness and an extra leash
- Photocopies of medical records and a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires, in a waterproof container (as with your food, medicines need to be rotated on a regular basis)
- Bottled water, at least 7 days’ worth per person and pet (store in a cool, dry place and replace every two months)
- A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
- Blanket (for scooping up a fearful pet)
- Recent photos of you with your pet (in case you are separated and need to make document ownership or create a “lost” poster)
- Especially for cats: pillowcase or EvacSack
- Especially for dogs: extra leash, toys and chew toys, a weeks’ worth of cage liner
- If you have to leave your home and have the time, grab a few toys and familiar items like a favorite blanket. These will help relieve stress for your pet.
7. Have a pet first-aid kit ready
On-line descriptions of these things can be lengthy, to say the least! Do ask your vet for advice, and perhaps consider purchasing a kit that you can supplement, depending on your pet’s needs. In the meantime, here’s a basic list from the ASPCA to get you started:
- Pet first aid book (If you're looking for a first aid app, Pet First Aid from the American Red Cross is a great one!)
- Absorbent gauze pads, tape and blunt-end scissors
- Cotton balls or swabs
- Fresh 3% hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting (always check with veterinarian or animal poison control expert before giving to your pet)
- Ice pack
- Disposable gloves
- Antibiotic ointment
- Isopropyl alcohol (or alcohol wipes) and saline eye solution
- Oral syringe or turkey baster
- Small flashlight
- Styptic powder
- Artificial tear gel
- In a sealed waterproof pouch, include the following: your phone number, name, address and phone of your veterinarian, and proof of up-to-date vaccinations (these may be necessary for a shelter); and an information sheet with your pet’s feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems.
8. Create a family plan
Know what you’re going to do, whether you stay put or have to evacuate.
In the event of a hurricane or other predictable natural disaster (snow, flood, tornado) bring your pets inside so you know where they are.
If you don’t need to evacuate, choose a “safe room,” i.e. one with no exterior walls or windows, if possible, You will need your Pet Emergency Survival Kit, of course, and also one for your family. Don't neglect the human members in your household!
Every family should know your evacuation plan for emergencies. Stage emergency drills and include your pet so they are used to getting into and traveling in their carrier.
Stay informed –TV, radio, and/or Internet will keep you up-to-the-minute.
If you must leave your home, evacuate early. If you wait for a mandatory evacuation order, you may be told you have to leave your pets behind. Early departure may reduce your pet’s exposure to the smell of smoke, high winds or lightening that could cause him to panic. Your entire family will be safer, too, of course, if you leave a high-risk area sooner rather than later!
If you have ever faced an emergency with your pet or had to evacuate, share your experience with us!