In our sad old world today, it seems that both natural and man-made disasters are now very tragically on the rise; one more horrendous disaster or emergency now seems to follow the one before. Some say that it’s just a normal, natural cycle, and that it’s now simply our turn. Some say that it’s actually Climate Change, and that we, ourselves, are to blame. Some say that these disasters have always occurred on our planet, and that they will continue to occur, but with our world-wide rising population numbers, and our never-ending urban sprawl today, more and more people will now be adversely impacted by them.
But no matter the cause, these disasters are very sadly arriving quite frequently these days, and in many shapes and forms from hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis to massive life-altering oil spills and deadly nuclear power plant meltdowns. Very sadly, right now in America, it’s the horrendous flooding occurring all along the Mississippi River basin which is adversely impacting thousands of U.S. residents.
These natural and man-made disasters also adversely impact both human beings and animals, and these disasters may require anything from a brief absence from one’s home, to a permanent evacuation and re-location. And, each type of disaster requires employing different measures to keep both human beings and pets as safe as possible. Today, the best thing that you can do for yourself, for your family, and for your pets in this, our Age of Natural and Man-Made Disasters, is to - Be Prepared.
And hopefully, we as a nation learned some valuable lessons about Disaster Readiness from Hurricane Katrina, including what an important part of life, for so many of our citizens, are our beloved family pets.
As a result of the numerous failures and mistakes made during and after Hurricane Katrina, the PETS Act finally became federal law. The PETS (Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards) Act now mandates that federal, state, and local emergency preparedness plans address the needs of individuals having household pets and service animals, following any major disaster or emergency.
The PETS Act mandates that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) now must provide rescue, care, shelter, and essential needs for individuals with household pets and service animals, following a major disaster or emergency. This is a much better situation than when Hurricane Katrina so tragically struck the Gulf Coast nearly six years ago, and so many family pets were so cruelly and so callously tossed right out of evacuation vehicles, to somehow fend for themselves.
But like everything else in life, we cannot solely rely on federal, state, or local officials to take care of all of our needs, especially in emergencies. We all need to become much more adept at disaster readiness, and we all need to plan ahead, right now, in case one of these dire disasters should soon strike near our own home.
I was recently asked about current Pet Disaster Readiness Plans, and I recommended ASPCA’s (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Pet Disaster Checklist.
I, myself, have printed out a copy of it, and my wife and I have now been going over it; and we’ve been adjusting it along the way for our own needs, since we now have so many animals in our care.
Step 1 - Get and Display a ‘Rescue Alert’ Window or Door Sticker
These easy-to-use stickers immediately let people know that there are pets inside your home. Make sure that your sticker is plainly visible to rescue workers, and that it includes: 1) the types and number of pets in your household; 2) the name of your veterinarian; and 3) your veterinarian's phone number. If you must evacuate with your pets, and if time allows, write ‘EVACUATED’ across the stickers so pet rescuers will know that there are no longer any animals left inside your home. You can order these stickers on the ASPCA website, and your local pet supply store may also sell similar ones.
Step 2 - Arrange a Safe Haven
Arrange a safe haven for your pets, in the event of a mandatory evacuation. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS BEHIND. Please Remember, if it isn't safe for you, it is not safe for your pets. They may become trapped or escape, but either way, they will be exposed to numerous life-threatening hazards.
And Please Note: Not All Red Cross Disaster Shelters Accept Pets - so it’s imperative that you have determined exactly where you will take your pets in the event of an emergency, way ahead of time:
· Contact your veterinarian for a list of preferred boarding kennels and facilities.
· Ask your local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets.
· Identify hotels or motels outside of your immediate area that will accept pets.
· Ask friends and relatives outside your immediate area if they would be willing to take in your pets in an emergency.
Step 3 - Emergency Supplies and Travel Kits
Keep an Evacuation Pack and plenty of supplies on hand for your pets. Make sure that everyone in your family knows where it is. This kit should be clearly labeled and easy to carry. Items to consider keeping in or near your Evac-Pack include:
· Pet first-aid kit and guide book (ask your vet what to include, or visit the ASPCA Website Store to buy one online)
· 3-7 days' worth of canned (pop-top) or dry food (be sure to rotate every two months)
· Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)
· Litter or paper toweling
· Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
· Disposable garbage bags for clean-up
· Pet feeding dishes
· Extra harness and leash (Note: harnesses are recommended for both safety and security)
· Photocopies of medical records and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicines your pet requires (Remember, food and medications need to be rotated out of your emergency kit—otherwise they may go bad or become useless.)
· Bottled water - at least 7 days' worth for each person and pet (store in a cool, dry place and replace every two months)
· A traveling bag, crate, or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
· Blanket (for scooping up a fearful pet)
· Recent photos of your pets (in case you get separated and need to make ‘Lost’ posters)
· Especially for cats: Pillowcase or Evac-Sack, toys, scoopable litter
· Especially for dogs: Long leash and yard stake, toys and chew toys, a week's worth of cage liner.
You should also have an emergency kit for every human member of your family. Items to include: Batteries, duct tape, flashlight, radio, multi-tool, tarp, rope, permanent marker, spray paint, baby wipes, protective clothing and footwear, extra cash, rescue whistle, important phone numbers, extra medication, and copies of medical and insurance information.
Step 4 - Choose Your ‘Designated Caregivers’ Carefully
This step will take considerable time and thought. When choosing a temporary pet caregiver, consider someone who lives close to your own residence. He or she should be someone who is generally home during the day while you are at work, or who has easy access to your home. A set of keys should be given to this trusted individual. This may work well with neighbors who have pets of their own—you may even swap pet responsibilities, depending upon who has accessibility.
When selecting a permanent pet caregiver, you’ll also need to consider other criteria. This is a person to whom you are entrusting the care of your pets in the event that something dire should happen to you. When selecting this ‘foster parent,’ only consider people who have met your pets, and who have successfully cared for animals in the past. Be sure to discuss your expectations at length with a permanent caregiver, so that he or she truly understands the responsibility of caring for your pets on a permanent basis.
Step 5 - Evacuation Preparation
If you must evacuate your home in a crisis, you must plan for the worst-case scenario. If you think you may be gone for only a day or two, assume that you may not be allowed to return for several weeks. During Hurricane Katrina, many people thought that they would only be gone for a few days. Those days soon turned into weeks, and then, into months. And very sadly, many of them were never able to return, or they returned much too late to save their pets from starvation.
When recommendations for evacuation have been announced, promptly follow the instructions of local and state officials. To minimize evacuation time, take these simple steps:
· Store an emergency kit and leashes as close to an exit as possible.
· Make sure all your pets wear collars and tags with up-to-date identification. Your pet's ID tag should contain his or her name, telephone number, and any urgent medical needs. Be sure to write your pet's name, and your name and contact information on your pet's carrier.
· The ASPCA also recommends micro-chipping your pet as a more permanent form of identification. A microchip is implanted in the animal's shoulder area, and can be read by scanner at most animal shelters and veterinary clinics. And, the cost of pet micro-chipping is now quite reasonable.
· Always bring pets indoors at the first sign or warning of a storm or disaster. Pets can become disoriented and wander away from home during a crisis.
· Consider your evacuation route, and call ahead to make arrangements for boarding your pet outside of the danger zone, at the first sign of disaster.
Step 6 - Geographic and Climatic Considerations
Do you live in an area that is more prone to certain natural catastrophes, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, or floods? If so, you should plan accordingly. Do you live in an area near oil refineries, nuclear power plants, lakes, streams, rivers, or the ocean? If so, you should plan accordingly.
· Determine well in advance which rooms in your home can offer safe havens. These rooms should be clear of any hazards such as windows, flying debris, etc.
· Choose easy-to-clean areas such as utility rooms, bathrooms, and basements as safe zones.
· Access to a supply of fresh water is particularly important. In areas that may lose electricity, fill up bathtubs and sinks ahead of time to ensure that you have access to water during a power outage or other crisis.
· In the event of flooding, go to the highest location in your home, or to a room that has easy access to counters or high shelves where your animals can seek refuge.
If emergency officials recommend that you stay in your home rather than evacuate, it's crucial that you keep your pets with you. Keep your Evac-Pack and pet supplies close at hand. Your pets may become extremely stressed during your emergency in-house confinement, so you may have to consider crating them for their own safety and comfort.
Special Considerations for Birds
· Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier.
· In cold weather, make certain that you have a blanket over your pet’s cage. This may also help reduce the stress of traveling.
· In warm weather, carry a spray bottle to periodically moisten your bird's feathers.
· Have recent photos available, and keep your bird’s leg bands on for identification.
· If the carrier doesn’t have a perch, line it with paper towels that you can change frequently.
· Keep the carrier in as quiet an area as possible.
· It is particularly imperative that birds eat on a daily basis, so purchase a timed feeder. If you need to leave your bird unexpectedly, this feeder will ensure his or her daily feeding schedule.
· Items to keep on hand: Catch net, heavy towel, blanket or sheet to cover cage, cage liner.
Special Considerations for Reptiles
· A snake may be transported in a pillowcase, but you should have permanent and secure housing for him when you reach a safe place.
· Take a sturdy bowl that is large enough for your pet to soak in. It’s also a good idea to bring along a heating pad or other warming device, such as a hot water bottle.
· Lizards can be transported like birds (see above).
Special Considerations for Small Animals
· Small animals, such as hamsters, gerbils, mice and guinea pigs, should be transported in secure pet carriers with bedding materials, food, and food bowls.
· Items to keep on hand: Salt lick, extra water bottle, small hidebox or tube, a week's worth of bedding.
In this, our Age of Disasters, I truly hope that we are all now planning ahead, and that many more of us will now hopefully be prepared, to the best of our abilities, for any possible emergency – for ourselves, for our families, and for all of our precious pets and animal companions who rely on us for their continued safety and survival.