Unfortunately, natural disasters or manmade catastrophes don’t come marked on the calendar. As we recently learned with Hurricane Sandy, it is always better to listen to the experts when they tell us to evacuate, and to have a plan in place should disaster strike suddenly.
Hurricane Katrina can ultimately be credited with changing the perspective on disaster planning for our animals. Sadly, countless reports of people being forced to abandon their pets to the fury of a Category 3 hurricane prompted experts to agree that pets should be factored into disaster plans.
“Bad things can happen anywhere in the world, including in the United States,” warns Elizabeth Rozanski, DVM, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “You need to listen to the government if they say to evacuate — and you need to always have a plan for evacuating all of the members of your family, including your pets.”
Emergency pet planning involves more than simply putting your cat in a carrier, placing the carrier in your car and driving away from an approaching disaster. You also need to identify in advance how you would cope with a hurricane, wildfire, flood or other natural disaster. Failure to do so could jeopardize the lives of both you and your cat.
Prepare for the unknown
“The biggest mistake owners make when dealing with disasters is failing to prepare for the unknown ahead of time,” says Heather Case, DVM, a veterinarian and coordinator of emergency preparedness and response for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “Preparedness gives you peace of mind.” Consider these points in your disaster-preparedness plan.
Know where you’ll go. Don’t wait until you get an evacuation order to identify where you can evacuate to — and don’t be surprised if an emergency shelter is not among those options. Many shelters are not equipped to handle hundreds of animals during a disaster. You need to have your own evacuation plan that does not require you to rely on shelters that won’t accept animals.
Allison Cardona, director of field operations for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and a specialist in animal rescue, agrees: “Identifying pet friendly hotels and friends who live outside the affected areas is vital.” Your local animal shelter or your veterinarian may be able to make recommendations.
Keep ID info current
Update your cat’s identification. A microchip is essential. Make sure that the company that manufactured your cat’s microchip has up-to-date contact information. “You should also include as a contact a friend or family member who is not in your geographic area,” adds Dr. Rozanski. “Reuniting missing pets with their families after [Katrina] was horribly difficult, because the houses in which they’d lived had been destroyed in the storm or its aftermath.”
Include your cell phone number in the microchip database so that if a separation occurs while you’re away from home, animal rescue workers can contact you.
Pack supplies in advance. During an evacuation, it’s safe to assume that your new location won’t have the supplies your cat needs. Moreover, the stress of an evacuation makes pulling together and packing pet supplies chaotic, and you could easily forget an important item. Ready a pet emergency kit in advance. “Fortunately, you need very little for a cat,” says Dr. Rozanski. “I would have a one-pound bag of food available and medical records, including a rabies certificate. You should also have a copy of your cat’s microchip number.”
Take a cat carrier. Many pet friendly hotels require guests to bring crates, carriers or other enclosures for their animals. If for any reason you need to leave your cat alone in the room, keeping him in a carrier will prevent him from damaging the room while you’re gone and from escaping the room when you or others open the door. The carrier should be large enough for your cat to stand, lie down and turn around comfortably.
Advance planning will allow you to avoid what so many pet owners faced during Hurricane Katrina: being unable to return to their pets once the storm had passed.
“Unfortunately, the most common mistake that cat owners make in these situations is that they think a disaster won’t happen to them,” says Dr. Rozanski.
In light of the recent damage and destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, Catnip editors decided to republish this article on disaster preparedness in an effort to remind our readers the importance of including pets in emergency planning.