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When Disaster Strikes

May 11, 2012

Keeping You and Your Pets Together and Safe 

You may face a number of disasters in your lifetime, both natural and man-made.  Fires, floods, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, hazardous materials spills and power outages are just a few examples of the types of disasters that could happen, and any one of these situations could result in a temporary – or permanent – evacuation from your home.  Emergency planning is crucial to seeing your family through the disaster safely, and that includes your pets.  If you haven’t made an emergency plan for your pets, now is the time to do it, well in advance of any disaster that may come.  As the Boy Scout motto says:  Be Prepared.

If a disaster strikes that requires you to evacuate your home, you should never leave your pets behind.  If staying in your home is not safe for you, it’s not safe for your pets.  Pets left behind are often rendered helpless and many will not survive on their own.  They could become trapped or exposed to life-threatening hazards, and if by chance someone comes along and discovers them, they may not be able to find you when you return.

While no one likes to think about emergency situations or a disaster striking, preparing for one is not a difficult undertaking.  Following a few steps and gathering the materials you need now, before anything happens, will save valuable time and possibly even save lives:  

  • Microchip your pets – Pets should wear collars with ID tags at all times, but many pet agencies, like the ASPCA, recommend that they be microchipped, as well.  Collars can break and get lost, especially those worn by cats, which are designed to break open for safety reasons.  Animals brought to shelters are automatically scanned for microchips, so if your pet has one, it will be easier to reunite him with you.
  • Find a safe haven for your pets – For sanitary reasons, many shelters for people may not accept pets, so it is imperative to know where your pets will go in advance.  Your veterinarian can provide you with a list of boarding kennels and facilities that will take pets in a disaster, and your local animal shelter may temporarily accommodate pets in emergencies.  Friends and relatives outside your area may be willing to take in you and your pet, as well.  There are also many hotels and motels that allow pets, which could be an option, especially if you don’t want to be separated from your pets – compile a list of several outside your area and have their phone numbers and addresses handy.
  • Have a pet first aid kit ready to go – Any pet or human can get injured in a disaster, so a first aid kit is a necessity.  There are many websites from which you can purchase a ready-made kit, and for the do-it-yourselfers, plenty of web sites provide lists of what should be in the kit.  Cardinal Pet Care’s Rescue & Recovery products are a welcome addition to any pet first aid kit.  The gentle, yet effective formulas are designed to soothe minor skin irritations, such as bug bites, minor cuts and scratches, and little nicks and cuts, and promote healing.
  • Assemble emergency supply and travel kits – Having everything you may need in an emergency in one bag, ready to grab and go, can save lives.  You may be nervous or frightened, and it is a lot faster to grab a backpack filled with everything you need than trying to go through your home figuring out what to bring.  The All Things Emergency Prepared website has an excellent list of items that should be in a pet emergency pack – http://bit.ly/dBKEnm.  If you’d rather not put a kit together yourself, there are online retailers who sell ready-made kits for pets.
  • Human family members need emergency kits, too – When assembling an emergency pack for your pets, put them together for yourself and your family, too.  Items like batteries, duct tape, a multi-tool, flashlight, battery-operated or hand-crank radio, permanent marker, spray paint, tarp, rope, baby wipes, protective clothing and footwear and a whistle are some of the essential items to consider for your emergency kit.  Also pack cash, important phone numbers, recent photos of family members and pets, extra medication and copies of medical and insurance information in a waterproof container.
  • Choose a designated caregiver – Because disasters don’t always happen when you are at home, consider choosing a trusted neighbor or friend to be your pet’s caregiver in your absence, ideally someone who lives nearby and is usually home during the day.  This person will need access to your home, so he or she will need keys to your residence.  Also let the individual know where your pet’s emergency pack is, so he or she can take it with your pet.
  • Keep your emergency packs near an exit in your home – A hall closet near the front door to your home is an ideal location for your emergency packs, but the important thing is that your packs are easily accessible.  You don’t want to have to look for your packs or dig them out of the back of a closet when they’re needed.  Also, don’t just stash it and forget about it – the packs will likely contain a couple of weeks’ worth of your pet’s food and perhaps other perishable items, such as medications.  You will also need to update your pet’s veterinary records from time to time.  Periodically checking for expiration dates and switching out the food will keep your emergency packs fresh and up to date.

When planning for any disaster, the key is to plan for the worst-case scenario.  If evacuated, you may be told you will be able to return to your home the next day, but sometimes it might be several days or even weeks before you can go home.  Authorities could underestimate the level of damage and disruption to essential services such as electricity and water, which may result in an extended period of time without these services, and more time away from your home.

Emergencies come in many forms and can strike at any time, resulting in a brief time away from your home or, in a worst case scenario, a permanent evacuation.  It is important to remember to do your best to remain calm in a disaster.  Whether you are evacuated or able to remain in your home, your pets will be depending on you for their survival, so being prepared in advance is the best thing you can do for yourself, your family and your pets.

Image by Keattikorn.

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