The many weather-related disasters occurring lately got me thinking about pet safety…again…even more specifically, pet safety during a disaster.
In 2010, I found myself, 19 dogs and my cat Smokey running for our lives when the nearby Harpeth river water rose to waist high. Water was up to the window sills in a matter of a few minutes. None of us could believe this was happening, especially me. I ran through the house directionless until I started rounding up any dogs I could find.
My neighbor appeared out of nowhere to help me carry 15 dogs to my car waiting on a dry part of the road in front of my house. Four dogs disappeared somewhere into the night. The drive to find somewhere for all of to stay was a quiet one. Everyone was silent, wide-eyed, and scared.
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In the dark, we luckily made our way 25 miles to Lipscomb University in Nashville, where the Red Cross was set up to receive evacuees and the local humane organization parked a large trailer filled with cages. We holed up there for the 2 full days it rained.
I never ever thought a flood could happen to me so I had no plan but somehow was afforded some incredible protection from the universe during that time. Next time I WILL be prepared because something else WILL happen.
WOULD YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO?
Disasters will occur as fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, violent storms, and even terrorism. In case of extreme weather or a disaster, would you know what to do to protect your pet? Leaving pets out of evacuation plans can endanger pets, pet owners and first responders. Even if you try to create a safe place for them, animals left behind during a disaster are likely to be injured, lost or worse.
Focus on these key areas to create a plan for the best pet safety during a disaster.
1. Before a Disaster
To get started, familiarize yourself with the types of disasters that can affect your area and consider your options for taking care of your pets. Disasters can occur without warning, so be prepared:
- Keep good records about each pet so you can get to them quickly. Ask your vet for help in setting up your pet’s veterinary records. There may be a charge for health certificates.
- Make sure your pet wears collars and tags with up-to-date contact information and other identifications.
- Microchip Your Pets: This is one of the best ways to ensure that you and your pet get together if they are apart. Always be sure to register the microchip with the manufacturer and keep your contact information current with the microchip company.
- Keep a leash and/or carrier near the exit.
- Make sure you have the right equipment for pets to travel in the car (carriers, harnesses, pet seat belts).
- Prepare a pet disaster kit so that your evacuation is smooth for your entire family.
2. Write out a Plan
- Plan where you and your pets will stay if you need to evacuate your home. Remember, pets are not allowed in local shelters unless they are service animals. Many disaster evacuation centers (such as Red Cross evacuation centers) do not accept pets or other animals.
- Identify shelters, friends, or relatives outside the city where your pets and other animals can stay.
- Locate boarding facilities or animal hospitals near the evacuation shelter in case you cannot return home immediately.
- Create a friend system if you are not home during an emergency. Ask a trusted neighbor who can care for and evacuate your animals if necessary.
- Locate a veterinary animal hospital, humane society or Airbnb in the area where you may be going to for temporary shelter
3. Create an Emergency Kit for Your Pets
- Purchase a carrier for each pet. Write the pet’s name, your name and contact information in permanent marker or etched into the plastic of a crate or into the tray of a wire crate.
- Secure food and water for at least 2 weeks for each pet
- For cats: litter box
- For dogs: plastic poop bags
- Medicines for at least 2 weeks.
- Medical records, including the record of vaccination against rabies and other diseases, prescription drugs and medical history.
- Sturdy leashes or harnesses
- Microchip number
- Contact information (mobile phone, business phone, home phone) of the owner and close relative or friends.
4. Practice Evacuating Your Pet
- Train your pets to be in their carriers by making them a comfortable place.
- Practice transporting your pet by taking it for a ride in a vehicle similar to what you would use to evacuate. If you don’t have a car, make deals with neighbors, family, and friends. You can also contact your local government for information about transportation options during a disaster.
- Make note of where your pet can hide when stressed or scared. Practice picking up your pet if necessary.
- For cats, practice taking your cat out of hiding and placing them in a baby carrier, a pillowcase or sturdy box.
- Have your entire family practice evacuating with the pets so everyone knows what to bring, where to find them and where to go.
Diseases that can go viral between pets and people during a natural disaster.
Natural disasters can attribute to the transmission of some diseases. Exposure to adverse weather conditions, stagnant water, wildlife or unknown animals and overcrowding can put your pet at risk of becoming ill. Some of these diseases can be transmitted between pets and people (also known as zoonotic diseases or zoonosis). Some common disaster-related diseases that animals can pass on to people are rabies, leptospirosis, and mosquito, flea, and tick-borne diseases.
Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system in animals and people.
Rabies is transmitted through the bites of angry animals or by contact with their saliva.
To protect both you and your pet, report any bite injuries to medical personnel immediately. Practice safe pet handling in a stressful situation. Keep your pet in a carrier or on a leash and do not allow your pet to interact with other animals.
Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacterial found in the urine of infected animals that can cause kidney damage and affect other organs. It is transmitted through contact with infected urine or water, contaminated soil and food.
Washing your hands after contact with urine help to to prevent the spread. You should also avoid standing water, especially after flooding after natural disasters. Do not allow pets to play with or drink contaminated water.
Mosquito, Fleas, ad Ticks
Mosquito, flea and tick-borne diseases are all considered common pest issues. These pests can often be found on stray animals and can be a problem immediately after a disaster situation. Their bites irritate the skin and can also spread a variety of diseases (Lyme disease, West Nile virus) that are harmful to people and animals.
To help prevent mosquito, flea and tick diseases, keep your pet away from wildlife and stray animals. Talk to your vet about using a regular preventative treatment for fleas, ticks, and parasites for your pet.
After a disaster, familiar aromas and landmarks may have changed. Pets can get confused and lost, so it’s important to keep animals on a leash or in a carrier when transporting or leaving. Some dangers to consider for pets and people are snakes, other wildlife, rivers and streams, especially after flooding and downed power lines.