Last week I had the privilege of participating in an online video chat with Dr. Kurt Venator: Purina Veterinarian. The subject? What happens to your pet in the event of a natural disaster. Purina, which actually does a lot to help out during natural disasters by donating pet food and other supplies, wanted some help getting the word out about Pet Disaster Preparedness, and they offered to send me a kit for my own personal pet, and even pay me a little, if I would be willing to get on board. And how could I refuse? I needed this information, because I hadn’t really thought about what I would do with Anna if a natural disaster struck.
Long time readers of this site will recall that, a few years back, I actually did have to evacuate my home due to flooding from Hurricane Irene. It did not go well. We were very bad at evacuating. I mean, we got out eventually, but we needed a better plan. And thank goodness Anna had not been born yet, because it would have been much worse with a nervous puppy! I thought about all of this, and I knew that I needed some info on what to do when disaster strikes and you have a pet, and I thought that if I didn’t know what to do, you all might not know either. Luckily, it’s not that hard. Dr. Kurt divided the prep plan into three easy parts. Here’s what you need to do.
1 – PREP THE HOME – If you have a disaster plan for your family (and depending on what part of the country you live in, you might not – we didn’t), this is probably mostly covered in that plan. You just need to remember to include your pet in the plan. Do you store canned food and water in case of emergencies? Make sure that your pet has food and water too. It is recommended that you have at least 1 week’s worth of supplies at the ready, and that you change up the supplies every six months. Do you have a first aid kit for your family? Remember that your pet might need some care as well. If they take medication, have some extra ready to go.
Make sure you have a carrier for each of your pets. You don’t know if there will be debris, rushing water, etc. It might not be safe for your pet to walk. If they do need to walk, have some pads for their paws, in case of broken glass or structural damage poking out. It is also a good idea to have copies of their documents handy, medical records in case you need to prove that they are vaccinated, and a current picture, in case you get separated from your pet and need to hang posters or ask if people have seen them . Depending on the emergency, you might not be able to get back to your house anytime soon, and if the power goes out and your phone dies, you will need these hard copies.
The most surprising item I heard mentioned was a pet life jacket, but it makes sense. Your dog might be a great swimmer, but in times of stress, in rushing waters, if it is injured, better safe than sorry. But do try to keep this emergency kit to just the necessities. You don’t want to spend the night lugging around a huge doggy bed and 23 squeaky toys. If they have a favorite toy, fine, but don’t overburden yourself.
2 – PREP THE FAMILY – Make sure everybody is on the same page when it comes to the disaster plan. Know who is going to do what. Know where you are going, and where to meet if you get separated. Does the place to which you might evacuate even take pets? Are there hotels in town that allow pets? Do you have a friend or relative who could take your pet in an emergency? Everyone needs to know these details, so you don’t arrive at safety and then say “I thought you were getting the cat!”
If you have kids, make sure they understand what needs to happen, and that animals can behave very differently when under intense stress. Cats and dogs love routine, and when their natural rhythms are thrown off, they can become unpredictable. A conversation with your family can help to avoid a nervous claw to the face.
3 – PREP THE PET – Yeah, your pet is going to be stressed out, but you can make it easier on them. Get them used to their carriers if possible, so that it is not a battle when you need to get them in there quickly. If your plan involves leashes, make sure they are comfortable on a leash and can follow some simple commands. If you always take the elevator with your pet on walks, it could be a shock when you suddenly need to take them down the stairs. Get them used to the stairs. If they are comfortable doing all the things that they might need to do in an emergency, it will be much easier on both of you.
In addition to prepping your pet emotionally, also make sure that they have ID tags on withe current information. Again, you could get separated, and even with a microchip it can be hard to reunite you sometimes. A tag with your cell phone number on it could get you back together very quickly.
Maybe some of you already have a disaster plan that includes your pets, but I didn’t. I live in Vermont; we don’t get a lot of natural disasters up here. But where do you live? Is there a danger of hurricanes? Tornadoes? Earthquakes? Flooding? Whatever type of event might fit your area, make sure you have a plan for when things go wrong, and make sure that your pet is included in that plan. It only takes a few minutes, and it could mean all the difference for that potentially overlooked family member.