How safe are your pets and family? Is pet safety a part of your plan in the event of a disaster? On Tuesday afternoon, as I was in the office putting my gear away after a lesson when I heard a loud BOOM. It didn’t really register with me what it might be, so I went into the kitchen to get some water and saw huge puffs of smoke bellowing across the backyard. My lovely bride had heard the same thing and went outside to find our neighbor’s house across the street was on fire. She, of course, called 911 immediately and the wonderful folks from the Round Rock Fire Department arrived in mere minutes. In the meantime, our neighbor (retired Army) was out barefoot trying to put out the fire consuming his house with a water hose (luckily his wife was out grocery shopping). When we asked where his cats were, he couldn’t say. He assumed they ran out the door. This would nag at me for the next 8 hours. We spent the rest of the evening trying to keep our neighbors comfortable and offering whatever we could to the firefighters who were sweltering in the Texas heat. Eventually the fire was put out. The investigation was done. Everything began to wind down and calm down. Everyone was safe, the insurance company had been called, sleeping arrangements were made, and the cleanup crew was onsite to board up the house. Everything was cool, right? Then that nagging question began to resonate…where are the cats? Nobody knew. Nobody knew. If they escaped, how were they going to be caught? Would the hotel accept cats? Did the cats need veterinary care? Who would we call at 10PM if they did? So many questions and nobody knew. Additionally, our neighbors had a fish tank. Were the fish OK? They weren’t allowed back in the house to check. Nobody knew. Luckily, once the swarm of flashing lights, strange men and women, and water hoses left, the cats came back….scared to death but they came to their owners and were able to be transported to a family member’s house nearby for the time-being. Unfortunately, the fish did not make it. All of this got me thinking, which is usually a scary thing to most people, but I decided we needed an escape plan in case this happened to us. I also thought we should have an evacuation plan for floods, hurricanes, etc. and I want to share this with you so that you don’t have to say….”nobody knew”. I truly hope neither you nor my family has to ever do these.
Ensure everyone in the house knows where the exits from the home are and ensure all exits (especially windows) are functional and easy to open for everyone. Remember, there may be smoke, structural damage, or any number of reasons why a planned exit may not be accessible. Always have a secondary plan.
- Rally points
Pick a place a safe distance away from the home to meet so that everyone in the house can be accounted for. Ensure that everyone in the home knows where this is. It is a good idea to have an alternate location in case the primary point is compromised.
- Prioritize and assign
The first priority is to get every human out of the house. Ensure children, elderly, and/or disabled family members are evacuated first. Pets should be the next priority. Keep collars, leashes, and pet carriers easily accessible and close to an exit or close to where the animal generally spends its time. Make sure all members of the house know how to operate carriers and put on collars, harnesses, and leashes. Also, make sure pets are familiar with and comfortable with all of these devices. A panic situation is not the time to teach Fido to walk on a leash or for Ms. Kitty to learn to go into her carrier. The last priority is to remove valuables, paperwork, etc from the home.
Assign each responsible member of the household a task or tasks to avoid wasting precious time duplicating efforts. For example, Dad grabs kids, Mom grabs Fido and Ms. Kitty, Grandma grabs car keys and phones, Grandpa calls 911, etc. All according to the abilities of the persons and safety of conducting said tasks. Remember always, things can be replaced but lives cannot!
- GET HELP!
Once everyone is out of the home, call 911 or get to a neighbor’ s house and call.
- Stay put
Unless you are 100% certain that it is 100% safe, do NOT go back into the home to retrieve more items.
- Microchip your pets
Microchip identification is one of the best ways to ensure that you and your pet are reunited if you are separated. Be sure to keep the microchip registration up-to-date, and include at least one emergency number of a friend or relative who resides out of your immediate area.
- Keep a collar and tag on all cats and dogs
Keep several current phone numbers on your animal’s identification tag. Identification on indoor-only cats is especially important. If your home is damaged during a disaster, they could easily escape.
- Plan a pet-friendly place to stay
Search in advance for out-of-area pet-friendly hotels or boarding facilities, or make a housing exchange agreement with an out-of-area friend or relative. Never leave your pet behind if you evacuate!
Search for pet-friendly accommodations at:
- Use the buddy system
Exchange pet information, evacuation plans and house keys with a few trusted neighbors or nearby friends. If you’re caught outside evacuation lines when an evacuation order is issued, your neighbors or friends can evacuate your pets for you.
- Prepare an emergency kit for each animal
Stock up on the items you may need during a disaster now so you do not get caught unprepared. Below are basic items you should include in your pets’ disaster kits. Store your disaster kit supplies in an easy-to-grab container.
- Food (in airtight waterproof containers or cans) and water for at least 2 weeks for each pet
- Food and water bowls and a manual can opener
- For cats: litter box and litter
- For dogs: plastic bags for poop
- Pet first aid kit
- Clean-up items for bathroom accidents (paper towels, plastic trash bags, bleach-containing cleaning agent)
- Medications for at least 2 weeks, along with any treats used to give the medications and pharmacy contact for refills
- Medical records
- Rabies vaccination certificate
- Current vaccination record
- If your pet has a microchip, a record of the microchip number
- Prescription for medication(s)
- For cats, most recent FeLV/FIV test result or vaccination date
- Summary of pertinent medical history; ask your veterinarian for a copy
- Sturdy leashes or harnesses located near an exit to the home
- Carrier or cage that is large enough for your pet to stand comfortably and turn around; towels or blankets
- Pet toys and bed (familiar items to help the pet[s] feel more comfortable).
- A handout containing identification information (in the event you get separated from your pet)
- Current photo of pet
- Pet’s descriptive features (age, sex, neutered/non-neutered status, color(s), and approximate weight)
- Microchip number
- Owner contact information (cell phone, work phone, home phone)
- Contact information of a close relative or friend,
- A handout with boarding instructions such as feeding schedule, medications, and any known allergies and behavior problems
- Documents, medications, and food should be stored in waterproof containers
- Identify emergency veterinary facilities outside of your immediate area
If a disaster has affected your community, emergency veterinary facilities may be closed. Pets may become injured or ill during the disaster, so make sure you know how to access other emergency facilities. You can also check with your veterinarian to find out if they have an emergency plan that includes setting up in an alternate, emergency facility.
- Plan for temporary confinement
Physical structures, like walls, fences and barns may be destroyed during a disaster. Have a plan for keeping your animal safely confined. You may need a tie-out, crate or kennel.
- Comfort your animals
Your animals will appreciate your calm presence and soft, comforting voice if they are stressed following a disaster or while evacuated, and you may find it comforting to spend time with them, too. Some animals, especially cats, may be too scared to be comforted. Interact with them on their terms. Some animals may find toys, especially long-lasting chew toys, comforting.
- Know where to search for lost animals
When animals become lost during a disaster, they often end up at a local shelter. Keep handy the locations and phone numbers of the shelters in your area.
- Get children involved in disaster preparedness plans. The book Ready or Not, Here it Comes! by RedRover Responders Team Leader, Howard Edelstein, discusses how to prepare for all types of disasters to safeguard families and the animals in their care.
Dog Trainer and Behavioral Therapist