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  • Writer's pictureGina Scrofano

Planning Ahead Saves Lives: Animal Disaster Preparedness

There is no way of truly knowing what lies ahead of us. With human and Mother Nature, anything seems possible, and we never know when a disaster may strike. When it comes to the unknown, the best thing we can do is prepare for the worst.

The goal is to make well-informed decisions in advance, while we have the appropriate amount of time to calmly and safely do so. This, of course, includes the safety of our pets. As we have learned from past disasters, leaving pets behind during an emergency is like signing a death sentence for our beloved family members.

However, evacuating comes with many challenges, especially with an animal. If we don't know how or where we can bring our pets, we're sometimes left with nowhere to go, putting ourselves and animals at risk. That is why it is essential to plan ahead. The following are tips we can use to help ensure the safety and survival for our family pets, horses, farm animals, and ourselves.

1. Do Not Chain, Tie-Up, or Leave Confined Animals Unsupervised

Tying-up or confining an animal, especially unsupervised or during an emergency, leaves them unable to flee from harm, and causes a serious risk of jury, drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, psychological trauma, starvation, and death.

2. Do Not Leave Pets Behind

If it's not safe for you - it's not safe for your pet. Our pets rely on us to safeguard them, please do so by bringing them with you if you evacuate. When evacuating during an emergency or disaster, there is no way of confirming when you will be able or allowed to return. Numerous people who left their pets behind during past disasters assumed they would be able to return quickly enough to prevent their harm. Devastated were those who learned that wasn't the case. Whether you're forced to stay out of the area for several days or less than an hour, not bringing your pet with you leaves them vulnerable to theft, getting lost, injury, and death.

3. Keep Your Pet's ID Tags Up To Date

It is crucial to keep your pet's registration and ID tags up to date. Ensure that your pet's tags have your name, current address, and mobile phone number, and that the tag is securely attached to their collar. While animal shelters can scan microchips, most others are unable to do so. An up to date tag could quite literally be your only hope of reuniting with a lost companion.

Emergency ID Tip:

If you don't have time to obtain tags leading up to an emergency, write your name and phone number on your pet's collar with a permanent marker. Bear in mind, a shelter may not allow you to enter without a proper ID for your pet.

4. Choose A Designated Guardian

A designated guardian is someone who we entrust to care for our pets in the case of an emergency, or if something were to happen to us. It helps to choose someone who has a history of or is familiar with providing care for animals and is responsible. Your guardian should have access to your pet's disaster kit, veterinary information, medication, behavioral insight, pet insurance information, and have a key to your home. When choosing a long-term or 'permanent guardian' (aka foster parent), it is additionally important to choose someone who shares in your beliefs for pet care or agrees to the care specifications that you provide. It helps to discuss this in person and follow-up in writing. You'll also want to consider whether your guardian will have the financial resources and physical ability to care for your pet.

Sometimes the long-term or permanent guardian we choose resides far from our home. In that case, it may benefit you to have an additional 'temporary guardian' who lives nearby. A temporary guardian may be used in situations where you need someone who can quickly get to your pet in the case of a sudden emergency while you're not home.

If you have a will or trust, ensure to include all your final decisions regarding designated guardians and your pet care wishes. You may wish to include authorization for the use of funds from your estate for your pets, and set up a trustee who is separate from your guardian so that they may oversee the funds and care. It is recommended that you contact a legal expert for assistance.

5. Get A Animal Rescue Sticker

Animal rescue stickers are a visual way to alert rescue workers that you have animals inside your home. The number of animals in your household, species information, as well as your and your veterinarian's contact information should be written on the sticker, then placed on or near your front door. If you evacuate with your pets, write "ALL EVACUATED" with permanent marker across it (if time allows). You may get a free sticker from the ASPCA here, or you may find them online. Decals that are non-adhesive are handy as they allow for easy repositioning. If you are a tenant homeowner, you may be required to get authorization for their use.

6. Create A Pet Disaster Kit

When disaster strikes, every second counts. Having a disaster kit ready to go can save crucial time, as well as us and our precious pets. Keep your kit in a convenient location, such as an entry closet. Dry bag back packs are excellent for disaster kits (see #12 below). Be sure to inform your designated guardian where the kit can be found. Make sure the food and water are rotated out every two months, or at least before the expiration date.

Please note: a pet disaster kit includes items you'll need for your pet specifically, in addition to what you should have prepared for yourself.

Basic Pet Disaster Kit

  • Food and water for 5-10 days: Generally, dogs need approximately 1 ounce of drinking water per pound of body weight, per day (consult your veterinarian), plus extra for rinsing off any chemicals, flood water, or hazards your pet may be exposed to.

  • Bowls: Collapsable bowls are handy

  • Manual Can Opener

  • Medications: Stored in a waterproof container

  • Pet First-Aid: See #10 below

  • Veterinary Contact Information

  • Medical Records & Rabies Vaccine Tag or Certificate: Stored in a waterproof container / pet journal - see #9 below. Tags should be securely attached to your pets collar.

  • Medical Conditions, Allergies, Physical Description, Feeding Schedule, & Behavioral Insight: Stored in waterproof container / pet journal - see #9 below

  • Collar, Carriers, Harnesses, & Leashes: Ensure your pet is wearing their collar with ID tags. Carriers should close securely, and be large enough for your pet to stand fully, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Your pet may have to stay in the carrier for long periods, but never leave your pet locked in an enclosure unsupervised during an emergency (see #1 above).

  • Poop or Garbage Bags

  • Litter Box, Litter, & Scoop: For cats - aluminum trays come in handy

  • Blankets: Light-weight fleece throws are handy

  • A Bone and/or Toy: As always, avoid toxins and choking hazards

  • Current Photos of You & You With Your Pet: This will help with identifying your pet and providing proof that they're yours if you were to become separated. It helps to have photos in your phone, and at least one clear physical photo on hand in case your phone isn't functioning.

  • Disposable Diapers: If your pet currently uses them

  • Carrier Liners or Potty Pads

Also Consider

  • Anti-Anxiety Aids: Emergencies are stressful for pets, particularly those already coping with anxiety. Consult with your vet about anxiety aids such as melatonin, CBD treats, other holistic options, and low- or no-risk medications.

  • Pet Wipes or Pet Soap: Hypo-allergenic and unscented are best (avoid the eyes). Wipes can dry up - sealable baggies help.

  • Liquid Dish Soap: Mild and non-toxic are best

  • Paper towels

  • Household Bleach and/or Disinfecting Spray

  • Grooming Items

Important Kit Tip:

Be sure to rotate the food and water out of your kit every two months, or at least before the expiration date. It helps to set up a reminder in your phone or desk calendar.

Additional Considerations For Birds

  • See Basic Pet Disaster Kit Above - Also:

  • Carrier With Perch: Otherwise, use liners or paper towels for the bottom of the carrier - change frequently.

  • Spray Bottle / For Warm Weather: To periodically moisten (not douse) your bird's feathers (consult your veterinarian).

  • Cage Cover: To help reduce stress. A blanket may be used to additionally help keep your bird warm, otherwise, sheets are handy.

  • Catch Net

  • Birds may be transported in secure cages or carriers (preferably with a perch).

Additional Considerations For Small Animals

  • See Basic Pet Disaster Kit Above - Also:

  • 5-10 Days Worth of Bedding

  • Small hide box or tube: Toilet paper rolls come in handy - ensure they're free from dyes and glue

  • Make sure items, such as spinner wheels and food bowls, are securely attached to the carrier or carry them separately - even when cautious, shifting items could injure your pet during transport. You may place those items in their cage once you're settled.

Additional Considerations For Reptiles

  • See Basic Pet Disaster Kit Above - Also:

  • A Large, Sturdy Bowl: For your pet to soak in

  • Heating Pad / Warming Devise: Hot water bottles are handy in a pinch

  • Snakes may be transported in a pillowcase, but make certain there's adequate air supply and place them in secure housing once you're in a safe place.

  • Lizards may be transported in a secure cage or carrier.

7. Secure Evacuation Plans

Do Not Wait For A Mandatory Evacuation Order. Doing so risks being told by officials to leave your pets behind, as well as you and your pet's safety. According to reports, people who stayed home despite mandatory evacuations, experienced loss of electricity, heavy winds, flooding, damage to their homes, injuries, armed looters, and death. When staying home isn't an option - you need a safe place for you and your pet to go. The longer you wait to make those plans, the lower your chances of success. You and your pet will be under more stress if your rushing to evacuate, which is all the more intensified by the frightening sounds and smells from disasters. Roads can also become quickly backed up with traffic and dangerous in such circumstances. Pet-friendly hotels fill up quickly, and not all shelters allow pets. Below are some recommendations and links to help you secure evacuation plans.

Pet-Friendly Hotels

Make Arrangements With Family or Friends

Check with family and friends who reside outside your immediate area and determine if during a future emergency they would be willing and able to provide shelter for you and your pet, or just your pet if need be.

Contact Animal Shelters

Call animal shelters to see if they're able to provide care for your pet. Try shelters outside your immediate area, or areas anticipated by experts to be out of harms way (if you have ample time to do so). It's possible that they will be able to offer foster care by caregivers associated with them. It's important to consider that shelters will have limited resources during emergencies, and if they end up in an effected area, your pet could be relocated to keep them safe. Be sure to inquire whether they have an emergency relocation plan in place and what it entails.

Check With Your Veterinarian

Ask your veterinarian if they offer shelter for animals during disasters and emergencies. Again, find out what their strategy is for relocating pets if need be, and make sure to get their 24-hour contact information.

8. Disaster Plans For Other Animals

Just as our household companion animals are susceptible to stress, fear, pain and suffering, as are horses, cows, chickens, and other farm animals. It is our responsibility to protect all our animals from harm - regardless of species. The greater the numbers or the larger the animal, the more challenging evacuation and their protection during a disaster can become. Which is all the more reason to prepare in advance. Below are links for disaster plans for horses and farm animals, as well as how to help community cats.

9. Pet Journal

A pet journal is important for many reasons. If something were to happen to you or your not with your pet during an emergency, it will benefit your pet's guardian, animal shelter, or caretaker. A concise list of your pet's information can also come in handy during a disaster, even when your with your pet. Keep a paper copy of your pet journal in a water proof bag or container. You may also want to have a USB version, particularly for all your pet's detailed medical records, but keep in mind a computer and electricity may not always be available. Make certain that it's kept up to date. Below is what you should include in your pet journal.

Contact Information

  • Your Name

  • Address

  • Phone Number(s)

  • Designated Guardians' Contact Information

  • Veterinarian Contact Information

Your Pet's Information

  • Name

  • Date of Birth

  • Species and Breed

  • Allergies

  • Medical Conditions

  • All Current Medications: Including heartworm and tick prevention

  • Vaccination Information: Include copy of most recent rabies certificate

  • Physical Description: Include identifying features

  • Feeding Schedule

  • Behavioral Insight (including challenges/issues) and Personality Traits

10. First Aid Kits

First aid kits for people and pets have many similarities. Both types are available online and at a local retailers. You may also create your own by piecing items together and storing them in a waterproof bag or container. The ASPCA and American Red Cross have good pet first aid kit tips.

11. First Aid Mobile Apps and Books

The American Red Cross mobile apps provide vital first aid instructions for people and pets. You may obtain the apps here or by using the 'App' feature on your phone. Paper back versions are available, but keep in mind they can become outdated. Be sure to check for the most recent editions. Dog version here, cat version here.

12. Dry Bags and Backpacks

Waterproof bags (aka dry bags) keep our belongings dry during heavy rain or flooding. They're perfect for storing disaster kits, for us and our pets. It's recommended to have a separate bag for your pets in case you're not together at the time of an emergency. You can pack them ahead of time so they're ready to quickly gab and go. Waterproof backpacks and duffles are handy because they're often easier to carry. Watershed has some excellent and reliable options - they can be pricey, but they're a great investment and can become invaluable during a disaster. NRS also offers quality options, at slightly lower prices. Other options can be found online using the keywords 'dry bags' and 'waterproof backpacks.’

13. Crank Radio / Flash Light

Crank radios can be your saving grace in a disaster. Key features to look for are, multiple methods of powering them (such as hand crank generator, solar power panel, USB port, and replaceable batteries), AM and FM frequencies, NOAA weather band frequencies and weather alerts, LED flashlights, and charging capabilities for mobile phones.

The Kaito KA500 Voyager, Sangean MMR-88, and Midland ER310, are all great options, which balance important features at a reasonable price. Those manufactures, and others, offer other options at varied pricing, which can be found online using the manufacture name or key words 'crank radio.' Be certain to read the product manual.

Crank Radio / Ultrasonic Whistles:

Some radios have ultrasonic whistles. This is meant to alert search and rescue dogs if you need rescue. These whistles may frighten or frustrate animals of varying species, which can be dangerous for them and you. Dogs must be appropriately trained with them to understand how to respond, and this whistle feature should only be used for emergencies.

14. Wireless Emergency Alerts and Weather/Storm Mobile Apps

Call your wireless provider (e.g., Sprint, Verizon, etc.), and ensure you're signed up for Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to receive notifications on your phone about emergencies in your area. You may also download a weather mobile app for reports, storm tracking, and important notifications. Examples: NOAA Weather Radar, FEMA Weather, NOAA Storm Radar, The Weather Channel

15. NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR)

The NWR is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting warnings and post-information on severe weather, earthquakes, chemical releases, AMBER alerts, etc. For radio stations/frequencies and event codes, click here.

16. Backup Computers and Phones

Backup your important documents that are on your computers and cell phone, such as with the Apple iCloud, Verizon Cloud, or Dropbox. External hard drives can be set up to backup your computer routinely, just make certain that when you evacuate it is kept in a safe place, life a fireproof box or in your waterproof emergency kit. You may also email documents to yourself. Keep in mind you may not have access to the internet for extended periods of time during an emergency or disaster.

17. Fire and Water Safe Boxes

It is beneficial to keep important documents in fire-safe/waterproof boxes. Documents can include copies of your birth certificate, medical records (for you and your pets), contact information, insurance policies, tax records, warranty information, receipts, etc. You may also keep an updated and labeled flash or hard drive with your important computer documents in that box. Be sure to take additional copies of your documents with you if you must evacuate, bearing in mind you may not have immediate access to a computer and electricity. Fire/water proof boxes and file cabinets are available online and at local retailers.

18. Portable Phone Charger

If you evacuate, be sure to bring your mobile phone and charger with you. Portable phone/laptop chargers also come in handy as they allow you to charge your devices (for a limited time) without the need for electricity. Make sure the charger and your devises are compatible and that you keep it charged while it's not in use.

19. Window Ladders

Fires, disasters, and burglaries happen when you least expect it and you never know when you may have to escape a hazard by window. A ladder can mean the difference between life and death, or safety and broken bones. Collapsible window ladders are easy to store and can be found online or at local construction/home improvement retailers. Be sure to store ladders in the rooms where you will likely need them at the time of an emergency, such as an upper level bedroom.

20. Emergency Kits For People

For what to include in a general emergency kit for people click here. You may also download a pdf version here.

21. General Disaster Preparedness

For information on how to prepare and what to do during all different types of emergencies and disasters, such as severe weather, power outages, wildfires, and shootings. Go here and click on the 'Disasters and Emergencies' tab.

Following these tips and remembering to always remain calm during a disaster can mean the difference between lost lives and survival for us, and our cherished animals.

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