Almost one in four Americans has now had to evacuate their home due to a disaster or other emergency, according to data just released by the ASPCA. Almost half of those people left at least one pet at home. Forty percent were gone for at least 4 days, with almost 10 percent gone for at least 8 days. Many left food and water behind, but that doesn’t do much in the face of rising waters, destructive winds that can tear the roof off a building, or encroaching wildfires.
You could be next. The United States is becoming a hot spot for more, not fewer, climate-related disasters: hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, fires, floods. It’s for that reason that it’s important to include your pet in a preparedness plan. Disasters are by definition emergencies, making it very hard to think things through in real time.
Fortunately, it’s easier to protect your cat in the event of a disaster than it used to be. There’s now a law in place that says in order for states, cities, and counties to receive federal funding for their disaster relief plans, those plans must “account for the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during, and following a major disaster or emergency.” Called the PETS Act, it means, generally speaking, that for municipalities to receive federal funding for their disaster relief plans, emergency shelters have to be set up that are pet friendly, along with other steps put in place to protect companion animals during a weather-related disaster or earthquake. More than 30 states have signed on, so to speak, by incorporating the needs of pets into their plans for what to do in the event of a disaster.
The law was enacted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. An estimated 100,000 cats and other pets were separated from their families during and after that awful storm, with as many as 70,000 dying. Who can’t remember the heartbreaking images of both pets and people stranded on rooftops and pets alone in trees, or the stories of people who brought their pets to evacuation buses only to be told their animals had to be left behind?
But even with the law, you still need to know the options in your community, in addition to taking common sense precautions. Here are some tips.
- Find out from your municipality or local Red Cross chapter if in the event of a disaster there will be emergency pet-friendly housing — shelters or other facilities that will allow companion animals. If not, see what hotels or motels allow pets. Hotels are not required to take pets in a disaster.
- Create a portable emergency kit that includes your pet’s identification and medical records, food, water, bowls, and any medicine he may take. Just keep it in a closet or other spot where you can grab it.
- If you’ve got to go, take your cat’s favorite blanket or other toy — something to bring him a little emotional comfort in the midst of all the anxiety.