Disaster Survival 101

As Hurricane Isaac bears down on the Gulf Coast, I, like many of you I’m sure, am remembering Hurricane Katrina. The relief when it was downgraded from a 5, to a 4, then a 3. It’s not going to be that bad. That relief turning to horror as the levees failed, a slow-motion catastrophe whose impact is still evident throughout the region and in the hearts of the millions affected.

To those in the area, I wish you one thing, to be safe. My thoughts are with you.

I can only hope that you have been able to use that warning time to come up with an evacuation plan for your pets as well. The tragedy there last time was almost too much to bear, people who could not take their pets to evacuation sites, leaving them for what they thought was just going to be a few days. Those pets, left for weeks, died. Those who made it to the outskirts were sometimes reunited with their owners, often not. Abandoned and alone while their owners despaired. Or another horror, those who were unable to secure a safe option for their pets and elected to ignore evacuation orders instead of leaving their pets behind, those who paid the ultimate price for their loyalty.

We have learned much from that disaster.

If you are not in the middle of this storm right now, watching the news with the luxury of room to breathe and think, I urge you to take just a few moments to ask yourself if you have a plan in place for your household. We all have some sort of looming natural disaster that could crop up unexpectedly, be it a tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake, or a wildfire. We are all susceptible to that unexpected fright in the middle of the night, the need to get out, fast.

1. Plan to take your pet with you.

We all like to assume it’s no big deal, right? We’ll be back, it’s a false alarm, etc. It’s human nature to do that. But if that road closes behind you, they’re not letting you back in for your pet, no matter how distraught you are. Our emergency personnel are charged with protecting you. You are charged with protecting your pets.

Make it easy to get out fast. Don’t have your cat carrier buried in the attic somewhere you can’t reach in five minutes, which may be all the time you have. We keep ours in the hall closet, right under the leashes, which can be grabbed in seconds.

2. Have your tags, microchip, and/or GPS up to date and on your pet.

What if a big earthquake hit while you were at work? Roads closed, pets panicking, running out through a shattered window. Is your neighbor’s number programmed into your cell so you can call them to check on your pet (or vice versa)? Week after week we hear amazing tales of pets reunited with their owners after months, years, due to a microchip. These identifiers work, but only if the tags are on, the GPS is charged, and the microchip contact information is up to date.

Is your microchip info up to date? Not sure? Check it. Do it now while you’re thinking of it. I’ll wait.

3. Know where you can go.

Not all shelters will take pets. Have a list of hotels/motels that will accept pets bookmarked. Shelters, usually overburdened under normal circumstances, may not be prepared for an influx of pets. In our area, local veterinarians have been wonderful about taking in pets of evacuated people after our multiple wildfires, so don’t overlook this underutilized resource- we want to help.

Don’t have your regular vet AND an emergency vet number programmed into your phone? Another thing you can do right now. That never hurts.

4. Have a disaster kit.

We have an earthquake kit in our pantry, with all the stuff we’ve been told to have at the ready to keep us going if the big one hits. We also have some pet items in there, a small bag of dog food, a few cans of cat food- enough for a week, a couple collapsible bowls, easy to take if needed. A photocopy of vaccine records. Disposable litter pans. Basic stuff.

This is obviously a pretty basic list. It can get exponentially more complicated than this, with elaborate first aid kits, toys, blankets, and other nice to have items, but these few things will allow you to get out with your pets quickly. The rest you can deal with later.

5. Look out for one another

Maybe you aren’t close with your neighbors, maybe you only wave to them in passing, but I bet you know who has a pet and who doesn’t. Well, at least you probably know who has a dog. I, of course, know everyone’s pets, but that’s only because they all come to me for free advice. Nonetheless, I would happily cram all their pets into my car if I had to evacuate while the owners were at work. There have been a couple of times we came close.

What’s your emergency plan? Or do you have one?


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  • Tabitha W

    IM sad to say, we do not have a plan or a kit or even a cat carrier (I Know, with three cats!). all of our cats are harness trained, but I think I might invest in on just in case. Toronto Ontario does not get many disasters other then snow and Hydro being cut off because of snow. I guess in comparison to to earthquakes, fire and hurricanes we really lucked out with just snow. But I know that we are not immune. so this weekend it will be my mission to make a get out fast kit, or a stay warm kit!! Any Canadian’s out there have a snow emergency kit for their pets?

  • We used to live in Florida along the Gulf Coast and were forced to evacuate more times than I can count. Luckily, we were always able to evacuate to a relatives house who allowed us to drag all my furry babies along with me. I would never leave them behind. We live in the middle of South Carolina now so hurricanes aren’t really a big concern anymore (knock on wood).
    My biggest fear is if something sudden happens, like a tornado, or a fire. While I don’t think I’d have a problem getting the dogs out I always worry about having to track down the cat and pulling him out of whatever hidey hole he’s got himself into. I always tell the kids that if a fire happens and I’m not home that they are to get themselves out of the house and just leave the door open so the animals can get out, not to worry about getting them out by themselves. Pray God they are never forced into that situation.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been through a hurricane and two tornadoes (all with pets) and I’m hyper-aware of keeping them safe. During tornado season, I keep a bag – my Twister bag – near with the important stuff for humans and canines as well as two leashes (a long one that can be tied around me if I need my hands free). Thankfully right now we have a neighbor we’re on good terms with that also has two Rotties in case anything happens while the other one is not home. And depending on the severity of the situation we have a handful of places we can go with dog in tow. (hell there are been nights I’ve slept fully clothed with my shoes on and the dog on a leash in case the tornado sirens started blaring)

    I remember transporting a lot of Katrina dogs after that time and all of the precautions we had to take as drivers. A family friend in Ohio even rescued one of the dogs soon after and nursed it back to health. It was such a horrific situation for the dogs (and other animals) that were trapped. 🙁

  • Anonymous

    We are about 90 miles N of the MS Gulf Coast, so we experienced Katrina head on. With Isaac, there are designated shelters that will take pets this time BUT they must be in carriers. This requirement is for the obvious safety of everyone since frightened animals can be dangerous. I have 6 animals; all 6 have crates and all 6 are micro-chipped. One of our animals was a rescue after Katrina…sopping wet and abandoned…our area shelters, once we could get to them, were flooded, animals were wet and the staff was overwhelmed both physically and emotionally trying to keep the animals safe. This time many of us loaned out any extra crates to the shelters that are assisting with evacuated people and their pets…a good thing to remember when trying to think of easy ways to help areas affected by storms. Crates can easily be moved to higher ground while a stationary pen cannot. A great post!! Thanks so much for the reminders to us all! 🙂

    • I remember that after Katrina, the need for crates- one of those things that seems so obvious in retrospect.

  • Tamara

    Ever since Katrina, and even before, I’ve kept the kitty carriers out where we have easy access. Now, with 3 parrots as well, my evacuation plans are a bit more complicated. I do have them though. I pray for a slow-moving catastrophe, should one ever come our way, just to be extra sure.

  • geof l

    My suggestion is to add a pet survival kit to your preparations (www.hurricanecamping.com) as that makes one less thing to worry about and you can have all you need for your pet ready for the next storm