Our pets enrich our lives in more ways than we can count. In turn, they depend on us for their safety and well-being. Here's how you can be prepared to protect your pets when disaster strikes.
The best way to protect your family from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan must include your pets. Being prepared can save their lives.
Different disasters require different responses. But whether the disaster is a hurricane or a hazardous spill, you may have to evacuate your home.
If you must evacuate, the most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to evacuate them, too. Leaving them behind, even if you try to create a safe place, is likely to result in their being injured, lost, or worse. So prepare now.
Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of states' health and safety regulations and other considerations. Service animals that assist people with disabilities are the only exception. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead. Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your research.
Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on number, size and species. Ask if "no pet" policies could be waived in an emergency. Keep a list of "pet friendly" places, including phone numbers, with your other disaster information and supplies. If you have notice of an impending disaster, call ahead for reservations.
Ask friends, relatives or others outside the affected area whether they could shelter your animals. If you have more than one pet, they may be more comfortable if kept together, but be prepared to house them separately.
Prepare a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency; include 24-hour phone numbers.
Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster. They may be overburdened caring for the animals they already have as well as those displaced by a disaster, so this should be your last resort.
Whether you are away from home for a day or a week, you'll need essential supplies. Keep items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily (duffel bags, covered trash containers). Your pet disaster supplies kit should include:
Medications and medical records (stored in a waterproof container) and a first aid kit.
Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals can't escape.
Current photos of your pets in case they get lost.
Food, potable water, bowls, cat litter and pan, and can opener.
Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable.
Often, warnings are issued hours, even days, in advance. At the first hint of disaster, act to protect your pet.
Call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets.
Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies are ready to take at a moment's notice.
Bring all pets into the house so that you won't have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.
Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars and securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Attach the phone number and address of your temporary shelter, if you know it, or of a friend or relative outside the disaster area. You can buy temporary tags or put adhesive tape on the back of your pet's ID tag, adding information with an indelible pen.
You may not be home when the evacuation order comes. Find out if a trusted neighbor would be willing to take your pets and meet you at a prearranged location. This person should be comfortable with your pets, know where your animals are likely to be, know where your pet disaster supplies kit is kept and have a key to your home. If you use a petsitting service, they may be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.
Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. But bear in mind that animals react differently under stress. Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed. Transport cats in carriers. Don't leave animals unattended anywhere, as they can run off. The most trustworthy pets may panic, hide, try to escape or even bite or scratch. When you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines. Consult your veterinarian if any behavioral problems persist.
Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier. In cold weather, wrap a blanket over the carrier and warm up the car before placing birds inside. During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the birds' feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport. Provide a few slices of fresh fruits and vegetables with high water content. Have a photo for identification and leg bands. If the carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels and change them frequently. Try to keep the carrier in a quiet area. Do not let the birds out of the cage or carrier.
Snakes can be transported in a pillowcase but they must be transferred to more secure housing when they reach the evacuation site. If your snakes require frequent feedings, carry food with you. Take a water bowl large enough for soaking, as well as a heating pad. When transporting house lizards, follow the same directions as for birds.
Small mammals (hamsters, gerbils) should be transported in secure carriers suitable for maintaining the animals while sheltered. Take bedding materials, food bowls and water bottles.
If you must evacuate, do not leave your animals behind. Take them to a prearranged safe location if they cannot stay with your during the evacuation period. Remember, pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters. If there is a possibility that disaster may strike while you are out of the house, there are precautions you can take to increase your pets' chances of survival, but they are not a substitute for evacuating with your pets. For more information, contact The Humane Society of the United States.
In a statement of understanding, The American Red Cross recognizes The Humane Society of the United States as the nation's largest animal protection organization responsible for the safety and well-being of animals, including disaster relief. The American Red Cross is committed to transforming the caring and concern of the American people into immediate action.
This information was prepared by the Humane Society of the United States in cooperation with the American Red Cross.