Emergency Preparedness For You and Your Pets

cat in pet carrier
Peaches is ready.

June is the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, an ideal time to think about the effects of a hurricane whether we live in the direct path of a hurricane or far away. We’ve already had tornadoes and violent weather this year, not to mention industrial accidents for which evacuations were necessary. Winter holds its own challenges with snow and ice that can disrupt power and trap us in our homes in freezing weather. We can’t be prepared for every conceivable emergency, but we can, and should, have general preparations made for emergencies and evacuations that include our animal companions.

Where we live in Western Pennsylvania was always quite calm weatherwise, and for that I’ve always been glad—and complacent about emergency preparations. Weather incidents that were once decades apart—tornadoes, 100-year floods, microbursts and derechos—now happen annually. With our topography featuring streams and rivers flowing through valleys that can quickly become raging walls of water, catastrophic flooding is always a danger. We’ve felt the aftereffects of hurricanes in not only heavy rains, but increased flooding and wind damage.

photo of flooding in rain
Flash flooding in Carnegie, PA during Hurricane Ivan in 2004; the flood waters rose in a matter of a few hours while people were still at work for the day, and many pets were stranded and lost.

Nearly ten years ago the aftereffects of Hurricane Ivan brought a devastating flash flood that happened during the work day and many residents couldn’t reach their houses until the next day. Our local emergency shelter allowed evacuating residents to bring pets because local officials were personally pet-friendly, but in 2004 this was not standard practice. Cleanup and restoration for residents and nearly every business on Main Street took months. And in the decade since as weather events have become more violent and unpredictable, even here in the quiet Ohio Valley. I have learned to be prepared, and as my household of cats has changed, I’ve changed my preparations to suit their needs.

Weather emergencies, transportation and industrial accidents and emergencies involving our own health and welfare all affect our animal companions’ safety, sometimes necessitating the evacuation of an entire household or handing their care over to someone else. As responsible animal caretakers we need to be prepared for as many circumstances as possible.

EMERGENCY SITUATIONS TO CONSIDER

Hurricanes hit the south and east coasts and also have a secondary effect on communities inland with devastating hurricane-induced floods in areas with geographic propensity for flash-flooding. Summer is also the time for unpredictable and devastating tornadoes across the south and Midwest, and a few have even surprisingly braved our hills as well as summer storms that turn to microbursts of destructive energy. A bright summer day can turn into a scene of devastation in minutes.

fire on main street
In 2005 a fire at a number of buildings forced the evacuation of a senior/disabled high-rise where many pets lived as well.

The Pittsburgh area where we live as well as other similar historically industrial cities are still home to various manufacturing industries as well as mining, our highways and railways serve trucks carrying dangerous loads, and our rivers are also paths of commercial transportation as well as our water supply. Accidents, spills, explosions and fires are not common but necessitate neighborhood evacuations, cause power outages and water shortages, and close roads and areas, often for weeks or months, during investigation and cleanup.

A consequence of these situations may be that you are trapped or need to evacuate, but it might also happen when you are away from home and can’t get to your pets. And not least of all, you may be injured or incapacitated in one of these emergency situations, or you may have an unrelated health emergency and be hospitalized for some period of time, leaving your pets unattended.

Emergency preparation includes being ready to care for and move your pets as well as leaving instructions for a trusted person to do so if you can’t.

HOW AND WHAT TO PREPARE

The best time to prepare is now – not when you need to pack up your pets and run.

First, arrange with a neighbor, friend or family member who is familiar with your pets to be responsible for your pets in case you are not home, or are not able to get home. Pre-arrange how/where you would meet and keep in contact.

Second, contact hotels and motels outside of your area about their pet policies and any restrictions on number, size and species. Ask if a “no pet” policy can be waived in an emergency situation. Also check for boarding kennels in case you need to board your pet if no shelter or hotel will allow pets.

Third, gather all the materials you will need to care for your pet and place these items in a waterproof container that is easy to carry. Keep the contents up to date and make sure it is clearly marked as your pets’ emergency kit. Here’s a quick checklist of basic things to gather, and prepare for five to seven days:

  • An animal-focused first aid kit which you’ve purchased or assembled yourself.
  • Your pet’s food, bottled water and medications.
  • Easily transportable pet beds, a portable water and food bowl and a favorite toy to reduce your pets’ stress.
  • Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions and any behavioral problems in case your pet has to temporarily stay somewhere away from you.
  • Contact information of your veterinarian in the event you have to foster or board your pet.
  • Current photos of your pet with your contact information in case he or she gets lost.

Some other helpful guidelines include:

  • Have crates or carriers or leashes for all of your pets that are sturdy and able to be secured.
  • Keep dogs and puppies securely leashed when outside your home and when traveling in the car.
  • Always transport cats and kittens in carriers.
  • Make sure your pets are microchipped, and also wearing identification.

Keep the contents of your first aid and emergency kits up to date and easily accessible, and keep in touch with anyone you’ve asked to care for your pets and let them know when you are away. Remember when an emergency does occur keep yourself calm for your own and your pets’ sakes. Chances are it will not, but if it does you’ll be glad you took the time to prepare.

For More Information

Emergency Preparedness Checklist

Download your checklist and be prepared

Karen Sable, owner of Pet Emergency Training, LLC, guest posted with a comprehensive article about exactly what to prepare, what to pack, and what to do to prepare for most emergencies. Please read her article, “Preparing Your Pets for an Emergency” , including a checklist of things to keep you on track.

Click here or on the image at right in order to download this checklist as a PDF file.

Other resources

Several organizations step up to rescue animals after disasters, and all offer information on preparation, including informational flyers and stickers for your door or window indicating the number and species of your pets. Visit the websites for the American Humane Association (AHA), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and PetSmart Charities Emergency Relief.


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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

5 thoughts on “Emergency Preparedness For You and Your Pets

  • June 6, 2014 at 3:33 pm
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    Great advise B..Important for anyone with pets and even more for people with multiple pets like you and I..just thinking of getting them all rounded up is scary so it is best to have everything else ready and waiting to go..

    Reply
  • June 6, 2014 at 12:40 pm
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    Thank you for covering this important topic, Bernadette! As a survivor of a direct hit from an F4 tornado at a house with pets, I know the importance of being prepared all too well.

    Reply
    • June 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm
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      Catwoods, tornadoes have always terrified me, but an F4! So glad you survived! And I really do hope people heed the advice.

      Reply
  • June 6, 2014 at 11:42 am
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    a grate post two day guys;hope full lee no one kneads ta “use” this add vise; but itz troo; most wait til de emergencee… than “act”
    a ree minder that mother nature works on noe oneszschedule…. but her own

    enjoy a grate week oh end, heerz two snapper, sockeye & sole !!

    Reply
    • June 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm
      Permalink

      Yes, Tabbies, let’s hope we can all stay put safely! I’m having a dog day tomorrow but sometime this weekend I’m going to have some creek time–and maybe I’ll bring back a creek catfish!

      Reply

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