As firefighters we are always faced with the unfortunate situation where pets get left behind in emergencies as families scramble to save their loved ones. The pet is usually not far behind on the checklist, but by then we are usually hard at work extinguishing the fire and ensuring the safety of the occupants.
A safe home, a regular routine, a soft bed – the things that bring you comfort bring your pet comfort, too. It’s so important to give some advance thought to how you’d handle your pet responsibilities during and after a disastrous storm or other event.
Your family emergency plan should include considerations for Fluffy or Fido. Not just so they’re comfortable, but so they’re safe, too. Here are some emergency planning tips for families with pets:
Prepare Now so You and Your Pet Are Ready Later
- Make sure your pet has ID. Always have your home address and/or phone number on a tag attached to your pet’s collar – or printed on the collar itself. You might also consider having a microchip implanted in case those tags fall off.
- Keep a current photo of your pet handy. This is important for identification purposes in the event there’s no microchip or tags. If you really want to be prepared, create a “Lost Pet” flyer and keep a few printouts in your emergency kit.
- Identify shelters or hotels that accept pets. Keep a list of their phone numbers and addresses, and include your local boarding facility’s number in case you need to drop off your pet. You could also create list of friends or family outside the area who can host you and your pets.
- Think security. It’s a good idea to have a secure carrier or harness so pets can’t escape if they panic.
- Create a separate pet emergency kit. You should have emergency supplies for you and your family – don’t forget your animal friends! Canned or moist food is best for them, as it can reduce their need for water. Other things to include: blankets, bottled water, pet first-aid supplies, vet records, extra collar and leash, food dishes and other supplies specific to pet type (such as cat litter, etc.).
- Consider a buddy system. Talk with friends and neighbors and create a plan where you can help each other care for pets during emergencies. If one of you isn’t home when disaster strikes, the other agrees to see to the animals’ needs for care or evacuation. Be sure to discuss where to meet after an evacuation.
See to Your Pet’s Needs During a Disaster
- Don’t leave pets outside or tied up. They may become frightened and escape. And, remaining outside can put them at greater risk of harm.
- Separate dogs, cats and other animals. Even if they normally get along, stressful situations can lead to irrational behavior.
- Have more unique pets, such as birds? Talk to your veterinarian about their specific needs in emergencies.
- Keep a supply of newspapers. If your pets cannot go outside, you’ll need to create space indoors for them to … well, you know. Protect those areas with newspapers, towels or other items.
- If at all possible, do not leave your pets behind if you need to evacuate. If you must, however, confine them to a safe area inside your home with access to plenty of food and water. Even leave the toilet seat up in case their other water runs out. And, it’s a good idea to leave an easily seen sign detailing how many pets are in the house, and how you can be reached.
Continue to Be Cautious Once It’s Over
- Watch your pets closely. They may still be frightened, even days after a disaster. And, even familiar areas may have changed, so keep them on leash and stay close. Remember, there may be downed power lines or other hazards still present.
- Re-evaluate how things went. Could your emergency plan have been better? Are there things you wish you had included in your pet’s disaster kit? Do you need to research more shelters and other facilities that will accept pets? Now’s the time to do it – before the next emergency.
If you’re like most people, you consider your pets part of the family. Including them in your plans, and taking steps before a disaster strikes, will make it easier to keep the whole family together.