Recently, a client asked that I participate in a local disaster preparedness expo. He explained that there was a tremendous amount of information regarding human survival and little if any information for the survival and well being of his beloved family pets. After the tragedy and adversity that our neighbors in Joplin have recently endured, I agreed to participate. I have relied upon personal experience and summarized some notable information from both the ASPCA and FEMA.
Effectively preparing for a disaster requires anticipation and real attention to detail. If there was one goal that I could accomplish, I would like you to start anticipating what you’re next disaster will be like for you, your family and your pets. The more detailed your plan, the better prepared and the greater likelihood you will survive the challenge.
I am not a Disaster Preparedness Expert, just a veterinarian. The closest thing to a natural disaster for my family was the ice storm in the winter of 2007. Like most who live in Southwest Missouri, our family was without electricity for 6 days. Many families endured weeks before power could be restored. The real challenge of this disaster was just keeping warm, because everyone endured single digit temperatures in the days immediately following the storm. Because our home depends upon a well for a source of water, no electricity means no water. Fortunately our business never lost electricity, so we had another location with a supply of the essentials to keep us going. Since then, I have always thought of “Filling the Bath Tub with Water” as an acronym for disaster preparedness because had I filled our bathtubs with water before we lost electricity, I would have spent more time on keeping my home warm, rather than hauling water from our veterinary hospital. The key to preparing for life’s next “ice storms” means anticipating our needs and organizing our supplies and equipment – working out the details – before the disaster occurs.
Borrowing trouble comes more natural to some folks than others, so if you’re not good at that, I want you to start by thinking outside the box, because each type of disaster requires different measures to keep you and your family, and pet’s safe. Will you be able to stay in your home or will you have to evacuate? If you can stay, will you have electricity, running water or food? What will the weather be like? Hot, or cold. Will the roads be safe for travel? Flooded or ice covered.
Because everyone in my extended family lost power and heat, and my house had the only functional wood burning stove, everyone stayed at our house. This included all the beloved pets from a family that inspired me to become a veterinarian. After several days of close living quarters, stoking the fire, and hauling water to flush 4 toilets, my best recollection was my nerves were worn pretty thin – like my father-in-law like to say, “company and fish start to stink after 3 days”. That was the same day the wood stoves door was left open and the flu was still closed filling our house to the rafters with smoke.
Looking back, this was only a minor “hic-up” in a week of Man vs. Wild – Arctic Survival 101, but at the time it was pretty darn aggravating. So what did I learn? Things are going to happen in your survival situation that you just can’t plan for. Plan to adapt. You can’t change the tide, so be ready to “suck it up” and roll with it. Sometimes no amount of preparation will get you completely through the storm. Plato said it best in 400 BC “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.”
Now for the details that could keep your pets out of hot water. I believe this step can be applied to almost any situation. Start your planning with some research, phone calls and record keeping. Keep your research stored in a safe place and keep copies in an evacuation bag with your pet’s essential supplies. For most of us, keeping an accurate record of our house pets is no challenge, but if you have a farm, having an accurate record of your livestock inventory will help you your neighbors track them in a disaster. Record a list of ailments or medical conditions, medications and special foods will help you maintain the health of your animals. Simply contact your veterinarian for a copy of your pet’s medical records. Also collect Names, locations and phone numbers of your veterinarian, kennel and any other caregivers should be at your fingertips. Your veterinarian can help you with a list of preferred boarding kennels and facilities. Ask your local animal shelter if they provide emergency shelter or foster homes for pets and identify hotels or motels inside and outside your immediate area that accept pets. Ask friends and relatives in and outside your area if they would be willing to take in your pet. Make sure all pets wear collars and tags with up-to-date identification. Your pet’s ID tag should contain his name, telephone number, and any urgent medical needs. Be sure to write your pet’s name, your name and contact information on your pet’s carrier. We recommend 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. My last homework assignment is for you to prepare a rescue sticker or sign that can be posted in windows in case you have to evacuate without your pets. These help rescuers workers identify and locate all your pets after the disaster has occurred. If everyone evacuates, write “EVACUATED” across the posted sign, if time allows.
Remember, leaving your pets behind is absolutely the last option. If it’s not safe for you it’s probably not safe for your pets. They may become trapped or escape to life-threatening hazards. Not all Red Cross disaster shelters accept pets, so it’s important to have a predetermined shelter for your pets BEFORE the disaster strikes. Our empty veterinary hospital’s kennel filled beyond its brim in the time span of 4 hours on Saturday morning while ice accumulated on trees and power lines. Many of our clients who had not even lost power, were booking hotel rooms in Branson and further south in Arkansas to wait out the worsening weather condition.
The next step is to start carefully considering a designated care-giver before the disaster strikes. Your choice could change depending on your circumstance, so consider and speak with several. Look for someone who is home, when you’re at work so they can watch your pet and even offer swapping shifts watching their pets. Look for someone who lives close to you, a neighbor or family member. Sometimes a long drive in bad weather is not practical. Especially with a pet who doesn’t like to travel in the car. It might be someone you could trust with the keys your home, or someone who is willing to bring your pet into their home. If you don’t ask, you won’t know and don’t just assume like most pet owners that, “everyone just loves my pet, after all, how couldn’t they?” Some people have allergies to pets, and more will be less willing to take on a pet during a stressful situation. Perhaps finding a neighbor or family members who already have pets is your best solution. Last but not least, consider someone as a permanent caregiver in the event something should happen to you.
Now it’s time to gather your emergency supply inventory. Let’s start with the essentials, food and water. Plan for a minimum 7 day supply of both food and water. The food should be rotated in accord with the manufacture expiration dates, but in general, don’t keep dry kibble longer that 2 months. Plan on your pet eating 1 cup or can of food for every 20 lbs of ideal body weight. A 60 pound dog will need 3 cups of dry kibble or 3 cans of dog food every 24 hours. You average size cat will require ½ cup of dry kibble in a day. Store 1 oz of water, for every pound of body weight, every 24 hours. That same 60lb dog will require a half gallon of water in 1 day. Another important item for you list is a pet first aid kit. The ASPCA offers a complete kit $50, and offers a complete list of items at aspca.org. You may want to review the list and add items as needed to your own first aid kit. Depending on your pets pre-existing medical conditions, owner should have a 2 week supply of prescription medication like insulin, anticonvulsants and arthritic pain relievers. These medications should be rotated like food to ensure their effectiveness. Other emergency items should include;
- Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans) for cats.
- Supply of litter or paper towels for cats and pocket pets.
- Liquid dish soap and disinfectant.
- Disposable garbage bags for clean-up.
- Pet feeding dishes.
- Extra collar, harness and leashes.
- Photocopies of medical records
- Recent photos of your pets for identification or lost pet posters.
- Travel bag or pet flight kennel ideally for each pet.
- Head mounted flashlight
- Blankets (pillow cases for cats or pocket pets)
- Chew toys or rawhides
- Evacuation pack for supplies
Some final considerations in the midst of the calamity that I should mention are that animals have instincts about severe weather changes and will often isolate themselves if they are afraid. Pets can become disoriented and wander away from home during a crisis. Always bring pets indoors immediately at the first sign or warning of a storm or disaster. In addition, separate dogs and cats. Even if you dogs and cats normally get along, the anxiety of an emergency situation can cause pets to act irrationally. In the event you take your pets with you, have a plan to pack your vehicle with family members, pet crates and supplies. And remember, if you think you may be gone for only a day; assume that you may not be allowed to return for several weeks.