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?