The second Saturday in May is National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day (May 14th this year), and by the look of things, preparedness for disaster is becoming all the more important. Last year’s wildfire season shattered national records, with more than 10 million acres burned. And while tornado season is officially mid-March through June, violent tornadoes and major tornado outbreaks have been documented in the United States in every single month of the year. And more tornadoes now occur together in clusters than formerly. Then there are the floods that have been ravaging so much of the south, the blinding blizzards of the upper midwest and northeast, and of course, the threat of hurricanes along the Atlantic coast any time from June through November.
It’s fair enough to say that every day should be Animal Disaster Preparedness Day. And these climactic events don’t even cover things like house fires and other non-weather-related calamities.
A disaster can require anything from a brief absence from your home to permanent evacuation. Here’s how to be best prepared, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA. Having these measures in place is not overkill. You don’t want to live in a state of panic alert, but neither is it a good idea to ignore our common vulnerability.
1. Affix a pet rescue alert sticker on or near your front door. This lets firefighters and other rescue workers know that more than people have to be gotten out. The sticker should include the types and number of pets in your home as well as the name and phone number of your veterinarian. If you need to evacuate with your pets before anyone arrives to help and time permits, write “EVACUATED” across the sticker so they won’t waste time looking for dogs or any other animals and can get on to the work of saving others.
You can order an alert sticker for free from the ASPCA (https://secure.aspca.org/form/free-pet-safety-pack) or purchase one. Many pet supply stores sell them.
2. Pre-arrange a safe haven. Not all shelters accept pets, so you have to determine ahead of time where you’re going to take your dog. Friends and relatives outside your immediate area are a logical first try, but you need to make sure one of them would be willing to take in your pet. A friend who enjoys petting your dog when he comes for a visit is one thing. Feeding and walking the dog and cleaning up after him is another. Short of a friend or relative, you can ask your vet for a list of preferred boarding kennels and facilities and also ask your local animal shelter if they provide emergency shelter for dogs. It’s also a good idea to identify hotels/motels outside your immediate area that accept dogs. What you should not do is leave your dog behind. If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for him or her, and your dog has the disadvantage of not having a cell phone or other means of communicating once you are gone.
3. Choose designated caregivers. This includes not only people who can take in your dog on a temporary basis if you are displaced for a while or can’t get back to your home but also permanent foster parents who can let your pet continue to live a good life if something happens to you. A temporary caregiver should have a set of keys to your house and, ideally, is home during the day if you go out to work. This works especially well with neighbors who have pets of their own—you can even swap responsibilities, depending on who has accessibility.
A permanent caregiver should know your pet and have successfully cared for dogs in the past. Clearly, you have to have a long, frank discussion with this person so she or he understands your expectations and the extent of the responsibility to which s/he is agreeing.
4. Prepare emergency supplies and traveling kits. Plan for the worst-case scenario, the ASPCA advises. Even if you think you’re only evacuating your home for a day, allow for the possibility that it may be weeks. With that in mind, and to minimize evacuation time once local or state officials have given the recommendation or order, make sure your dog always wears a collar and tags with identification information that’s up to date, including his name, your phone number, and any urgent medical needs. Even better, microchip your dog so he will be identified permanently.
In addition, store an emergency kit and a leash near an exit. Your pet’s evac-pack should include basic first-aid supplies like bandages, disinfectant, and the like, at least a few days’ worth of canned food with pop tops or dry food (rotate the food every couple of months), food and water bowls, any medicines your pet requires (this, too, needs to be rotated on a frequent basis), at least a week’s worth of bottled water for your dog, a flashlight, blanket, recent photos of your pet in case you get separated and perhaps need to make “lost” posters, an extra leash, toys, comforts like a favorite blanket, and a week’s worth of cage liner in case he can’t go outside to relieve himself.
For more protection for your pet, consider downloading the ASPCA’s free mobile app that shows exactly what to do in case of a disaster. It also allows owners of dogs and other pets to store vital medical records, in addition to providing information on making life-saving decisions during natural disasters. Consider that with just a few swipes, you can get step-by-step instructions on how to search for a lost dog in a variety of circumstances, build a lost-dog digital flyer that can be shared instantly on your social media channels, and get the latest and most relevant news about pet welfare.