The recent hurricanes brought to my mind the necessity of being able to quickly evacuate when you have dogs who are members of your family. Evacuations can be required for many reasons including hurricanes, earthquakes, wild fires, or other disturbances. It will be a stressful and traumatic time for both you and your pets. Knowing what to do in advance can help you cope better and create an environment where your dog is less fearful and stressed out as well.
The old Boy Scout motto is the best thing to remember, and it is crucial for evacuations. The best time to prepare is well before a disaster strikes. Here is a simple model that you can follow:
- Look at where you live and list the different types of events would necessitate an evacuation. For example, if you live in Florida, hurricanes should be at the top of your list. For California, you would look at earthquakes and wild fires. Everyone should list a house fire because that can happen to anyone at any time, and it would require you to evacuate.
- For each type of event in your area, determine when the evacuation would be necessary. Wild fires provide a little notice. Hurricanes and blizzards provide several days notice. Earthquakes provide no notice. You will want to ensure that you are not waiting until the last minute and getting stuck on the road with thousands of other vehicles in a large traffic jam.
- Determine where you would evacuate in each eventuality. For example, if you live on the east coast of Florida and a hurricane is on track to strike your area from the south and continue north, your evacuation should look towards the west. If the hurricane is coming from the east on track to continue west, you’ll want to evacuate towards the north.
- In addition to direction, you will need to determine if you will stay with friends or relatives, or find a hotel. You will need to ensure your friends and relatives will take your dogs as well. They may have reasons that they cannot. Many hotels are dog friendly these days, but many are not. You will need to ask when you are making your reservations. They may want to see the shot records of your animals. They will certainly charge extra for your pet.
- Pack for a lengthy stay for both you and your dog. Your dog’s “go bag” will need to have all shot records and any medications that the dog is taking. Put these in a watertight plastic zip bag. Spare collar or harness and leash. Dog bed and blanket. Food and water for at least three days, and the dishes to serve them in. Favorite toy to have something comforting to remove the stress. I would add some chewing treats for my dog as well. Some places will require you to keep your dog in a crate. You can find the type that collapse if space is an issue.
If you must use a Red Cross or other shelter, ensure that you can take your pet with you. Most Red Cross shelters do not allow pets because of health and safety reasons. Don’t try to sneak your pet into a shelter as that is not helpful for either of you. In some areas, the local animal shelter will have arrangements for sheltering pets whose owners are staying in a Red Cross shelter. You must research this in advance and make arrangements beforehand.
The Red Cross provides an excellent guide for preparing for disasters with your pet. The Humane Society also has information for disaster preparedness with your pets. The Department of Homeland Security also provides information for taking care of your pets during a disaster.
Sometimes it is not feasible to evacuate for one reason or another and you will have to remain where you are. Where I live, we get blizzards so I stay at home with the dogs because I don’t want to get caught out on the road in the snow. During a blizzard, or hurricane (we get those as well), expect to lose power. You may also lose water as well so ensure you have all of your available containers filled with water. I freeze many of these to keep the fridge cold. I have clothes for the dogs and we bring blankets to sit in front of the fire. You will still have your dogs’ toys available along with their favorite toy — you!
What if the unthinkable happens and you and your pets get separated? The best thing to do is get your dog or cat micro chipped because this is the first thing that a shelter will do when they find a missing pet. You should also have photos of you and your pet and of your pet alone. Yes, print them out and have them in the waterproof plastic bag along with your pets’ documents and records. Research the shelters and animal control facilities in your area and find out from them how they will handle missing animals from a disaster. Add this to your plan.
After the disaster, you must return home and put your lives back together. If you are fortunate, you will have a home to return to. Before you resume your life, ensure that everything is safe for you and your pet. Check the area for downed power lines or other debris that may hurt your pet. Check for flooding and flood damage. If there has been flooding, you will need to replace everything that got wet including dog beds, blankets, rugs, plush toys, and food. There are uncountable germs and bacteria in those flood waters and they are left behind when the waters recede. After the clean up, you should be able to get back to a normal life.
Your pet takes his cues from you so if you are stressed during an emergency so will your pet. If you have planned ahead and taken every precaution, you will reduce your stress level and then reduce your pet’s stress level. You cannot eliminate disasters from occurring, but you can prepare your response to them ahead of time. That is the best toy for your dog in a disaster!