From wildfires and earthquakes in California to the recent September flooding from Hurricane Florence here in the Carolinas, natural or man-caused disasters have a way of capturing our attention and destroying our lives. But do they make us think about a disaster plan for our pets?
No doubt our pets are an important part of our lives. Many people would automatically grab them, just like their children and the family photos, as they rush out of the house. However, given the sudden and unpredictable nature of some disasters, no one is guaranteed the chance to be home to gather pets and belongings. And sometimes frightened pets escape in the chaos. Then what?
When the hurricanes hit this fall, the Asheville Humane Society took in 33 pets from shelters in the hurricane zones, so those shelters could open up space for anticipated animals. Some were reunited with owners and others were rehomed. When disasters strike, humane organizations must care for the current residents and plan on an influx of more. What can owners do to help keep their pet from ending up in a shelter? How can you develop a disaster plan for your pets?
First, be sure your pet is microchipped. That’s basic, whether or not disaster strikes. Then make a plan for what to do if it does strike.
Hope for the best, and plan for the worst. Keep a “bug out” kit packed for each person and pet in the household. Include water, food, medications, medical records, snacks, toys, blankets, batteries, leashes, clean-up supplies, etc. tailored to each member. Think of things you can grab “Right Now!” In addition to being micro-chipped, pets need ID on them, with multiple numbers: home, cell, vet, relative, or someone who can provide directions in case you are separated. Maybe your groomer or pet sitter?
When it comes to preparing a disaster plan for pets, have a list of pet-friendly hotels where you can stay, either in the same town or several towns or another state away, if necessary. Confirm that everyone in your house knows where the Bug-out kits, carriers, and leashes are kept. If all else fails, grab a pillow case to hold cats, small dogs, birds or other small pets.
That plan is good assuming someone is home when disaster strikes and there is time to “grab and go.” What if no one is home, or unable to get home, and disaster strikes, leaving your pets home alone? Or what if there is no time to “grab and go?” Then what?
Plan B. Keep a list on you with emergency contacts who can reach your house, and know your pets to some degree. Contact them with directives. If they are unable to help, keep working down your list. Also call the local shelters with descriptions of your pets and explain you are unable to reach them. Text or email the shelters a current photo. Keep in contact to see if your pet ends up there.
Have a plan on what to do if you and your pets are reunited and you are unable to go home for a while. Where are you going to stay? How will you keep providing for their needs, and possibly medications, if you are far from home? Living short term with relatives or in a hotel can be challenging. How can you make it easier? More plans. The NC Extension office has a good series of lists at https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/caring-for-your-pets-in-an-emergency
This is key: If you are able to evacuate, always take your pets with you! Try not to leave anyone behind, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.
As to the worst: What about if you don’t survive the disaster and your pet does? Horrible to consider but a reality. If your pet is in the shelter waiting for you, do you have documents for someone to take to claim your pet? Do you have legal plans in place regardless of what happens to you that someone will step up and provide for your pets? Are those papers in safe places with trusted individuals who can act upon them?
What if your pet is with you, post-disaster, and something terrible happens to you before your normal lives can be resumed? Who will step in? Where are those legal documents allowing them the right to your pet?
There are no easy answers to any of these questions, and spending time thinking about possible scenarios will doubtlessly create more questions. Talk to family and friends, and your pet-care team. Make legal documents covering a wide range of situations, and have them in accessible locations. Make your plans and pack a Bug-out kit or two. Then rest easy knowing you have done the best you can to prepare for the worst nature might throw at you.
Ryan Jo Summers is a local author and pet advocate. She also provides pet care and is listed as an emergency contact for a number of her clients. To learn more about her writing, check out her website at www.ryanjosummers.com or her blog at http://www.summersrye.wordpress.com