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Preparing for a Disaster


 

 

 

 
 

Overview

Common Dangers
for Cats and Dogs

Preparing for a Disaster 

If an Animal Is Lost

If You See Animal Abuse

 

No matter where you live, it is very important to plan ahead for any kind of disaster. These preparations should include every member of your family, including your companion animals. Even if the area you live in is not prone to hurricanes or tornados, is not near an earthquake fault line or a large body of water, is not subject to flash floods or forest fires, and is an unlikely target of a terrorist attack, it is important to prepare for any kind of disaster to ensure the safety of your family, human or otherwise. Keep in mind that an ordinary house fire can destroy your own home at any time.

 

Keep Identification on Your Animals

Your animal companion should always have proper, up-to-date identification. That way, if something happens, a lost animal can be reunited with his or her human companion. During a severe weather alert, secure your animalís collar with the name and number of a friend or relative living out of state. Disasters can sometimes wipe out communication for days.

 

A great way to ensure your animal companion will be identified during the chaos after a disaster is to microchip him or her. Microchipping is the only way to guarantee that you and your animal companion will be reunited, as long as the contact information on the microchip is up to date. If your animal has a microchip, consider identifying the animalís second contact as someone who does not live in your area. If a disaster happens in your region, both parties could be unreachable. Make sure your second contact is someone who will get the message quickly and who knows the appropriate people to contact. If your cat or dog ends up in a shelter during a hectic time, take immediate action to retrieve the animal before he or she is adopted out or euthanized.

 

Attacks at Home

In places like Israel, where there is a potential for missile bombardments or even a chemical or biological attack, special protocols have been developed to protect citizens and their dependent animals. Israeli-designed pet gas masks and portable pet shelters have become popular for home preparedness kits. If your animal has a mask, you will need to check frequently to be sure it doesn't interfere with breathing. It is common for dogs to resist wearing a mask. Check if your dog will struggle against it, as part of your advance preparations. If this is the case, ask your veterinarian to recommend a sedative that will keep your dog calm enough to tolerate the mask — and test that too. Please keep in mind that under the extreme stress of an emergency, it would be possible for you to dangerously overdose your animal with a sedative. Your preparations should be so thorough that in the event of an actual emergency, you are going through well-rehearsed steps. Another option is to prepare the required dose of sedative (pill, half a pill, several drops) in advance in a separate container.

 

Never Leave Your Animals Behind

Most important, if an area has to be evacuated, be sure to take your companion animals with you. Even if you think you are going to be gone only for a little while, your companion animal should still evacuate with you. You can never be sure how long you will be away from your home. Even smaller disasters like gas leaks and minor flooding can keep you from tending to your animals for extended periods of time. Animals left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. If they are tied to any stationary object, their chances of survival are even less. Always be cautious when it comes to the safety of your animals and family. With proper planning, leaving your animal behind will not be necessary. Be sure to keep all vehicles maintained and full of gas and have emergency cash available. If you're prepared, you can load your short-term emergency kit, animals, and family into your car, and go within minutes.

 

It's possible that you will not be at home when a disaster occurs. If your neighbors are animal friendly, ask them if they will be willing to help in the event of a disaster. This is part of the planning that you can do long in advance.

 

Do Not Wait Until the Last Minute

Many people wait too long after notice is given to evacuate an area, and, in some cases, there is very little or no warning. If you are in this situation and you are unable to find your animals before being forced to evacuate, at least take the time to leave as much water and food inside or outside for them as possible. Also place signs around your house and near your cat's or dog's favorite hideout, in case emergency workers come to search for animals in your area or they find your animal companion. Include an address and phone number where you, a close friend, or a relative can be reached.

 

Be Prepared

Because disasters can happen at any time, prepare an emergency supply kit in advance, with everything necessary, in containers that can be carried. Keep the kit in a readily accessible location. A companion animal disaster kit should include: your animal's medications, medical records, a first aid kit, a sturdy leash and harness, food, water, bowls, and (for a cat) a carrying case and litter. You may want to include toys and bedding to reduce the animalís stress. Keeping your animal companionís health history and veterinary records on hand will ensure that he or she will not be turned away from a professional kennel or shelter that has been set up to care for animals during a disaster. This is another reason to keep your animal's vaccinations current. The health records will show that your animal companion is free of any communicable diseases.

 

Many evacuation shelters for people will not allow animal companions. You should always know in advance where you, your family, and your companion animals would be able to stay in case of a disaster. Contact hotels and motels outside your region to check their policies about accepting animals, and keep a list of them. Be sure to ask if "no pet" policies will be waived in an emergency. If you receive notice of an impending disaster, call ahead for reservations. Ask friends or family outside your area if they would be willing to shelter your family and animals, or at least your animals, in an emergency. Prepare a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency; include 24-hour phone numbers.

 

Always keep in mind that animals will sometimes react abnormally under stress. Keep dogs securely leashed and transport cats in carriers. Don't leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off. Even the most trustworthy animals are liable to panic, hide, or try to escape. If your cat or dog is lost during this time, be sure to have current photographs with you to help find the missing animal.

 

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Horses

Although it is important to prepare all your animal companions for a disaster, horses may take extra consideration because of their size and transportation requirements. Be sure to prepare in advance, because if you have to wait until the last minute to evacuate, you may have to leave your horses behind, risking their injury and even death.

 

Preventing fire is a high priority for horse owners. Always prohibit smoking around the barn, and store machinery, vehicles, and flammable materials like hay away from the barn. Keep fire extinguishers around the barn, particularly near the entrance. Despite all your prevention efforts, fires are still possible. If you are prepared for a fire, it may save your horseís life. Always keep equipment away from stall and barn doors. Have a planned evacuation route and make sure everyone knows the plans. Post the evacuation plan in several places so the details of the plan are accessible to emergency workers in case you are not able to evacuate your horses yourself. Emergency telephone numbers, such as the barn manager, veterinarian, or fire department, should be posted at each barn entrance. The barnís address should be clearly visible from a main road. Familiarize your horses with emergency procedures and activities they might encounter during a disaster. Although it might be difficult, try to desensitize them to flashlights and flashing lights.

 

Identify your horse with a tattoo or microchip. Record his or her age, sex, breed, and color, and keep these records, together with a photograph and any other up-to-date identifying information, with your important papers. In this way, if your horse does get lost, you will have all the necessary information to help find him. If you have not identified your horses before the disaster strikes, paint their hooves, use neck bands, or paint a telephone number on the side of each horse.

 

Evacuate your horses in an emergency quickly by trailer. If you do not have a trailer, be sure to make arrangements with several people who can help. It is important that your horses are comfortable being loaded onto a trailer. If they are unaccustomed to doing this, practice the procedure so they become used to it.

 

Make plans in advance. Arrange with a friend, a humane society, an equestrian center, or an owner of a private farm to stable your horses until the emergency is over. Become familiar with several routes to these locations and the entry requirements for each. Contact them before taking the horses there. Have a halter ready for each horse. Each halter should include the horse's name, your name, your telephone number, and a second emergency telephone number. Place your horses' Coggins tests (Equine Infectious Anemia), veterinary papers, identification photographs, and other vital information (such as medical history, allergies, and emergency telephone numbers) in a watertight envelope. Store the envelope in a safe place that can be reached quickly. As with every one of your companion animals, there should be access to extra food, water, and medication for each horse. Always keep a portable first aid kit on hand to bring with you in case of injuries.

 

In certain emergencies, it may be impossible to take your horses with you. Consider the type of disaster: would your horses be better off in a barn, or in an open field?

 


RESOURCES

 

Contact your veterinarian or local emergency management agency for more information about disaster response plans and specific evacuation scenarios for your area.

 

Suggestions from the American Red Cross:

Pets and Disaster: Be Prepared

 

Suggestions from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

Caring for Animals in Emergencies

 

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