Practical Disaster Prep: Is Your Pet Really Ready?

Lea Jaratz
Disaster prep for petsPreparing for an emergency situation should always include your pet.

Here in Cleveland, OH, we rarely worry about quakes, tornadoes or other natural disasters. But lately, it seems like Mother Nature is flexing her muscles, showing us everything she’s capable of. Last month, a late night tornado warning popped up and my family found itself heading into the basement, coaxing and carrying two confused dogs down the cellar stairs. Bleary eyed, and waiting, I looked to my pantry, with its emergency stash of canned foods, and realized something was missing. While we had enough canned beans and carrots to last us for days, there was not one can of dog food in our stash. No medications. Nothing for the dogs.

When we think about disaster preparedness, I think some typical things come to mind. Where should our family go? What items should we grab? Sometimes, we have little control over what our options will be during a crisis. But knowing what I know from working in a shelter after Hurricane Katrina, I was ashamed of myself for not having set aside a few essentials for my pups.

Pet emergency preparedness doesn’t have to be extreme. In fact, it takes just a few minutes and some organization:

An Ounce of Prevention

Asses your home to make sure your animals don’t pose risks to your safety or property:

  • Be sure they can’t access stove knobs or chew on electrical cords that might start fires.
  • Monitor pets around candles or hot appliances like space heaters.
  • Flukes can happen, (like this dog’s metal water bowl starting a house fire) but being extra aware of potential fire or safety risks might pay off in the long run.

Planning Ahead

It’s crucial to have a microchip or tag (preferably both) on your pets at all time, just in case they are frightened and flee or in the event that you are separated. Have a readily accessible stash of the following, in case you find yourself confined to your home or need to evacuate:

  • pet first aid kit, including medications
  • 5 days of canned or dry food, water and some sort of portable bowls or trays for feeding
  • waste clean-up needs (disposable litter tray, litter, paper towels, plastic bags)
  • a collar/harness with contact info (sharpie on an old collar will be fine, especially in the event that you need to display a temporary number)
  • leashes, crates and carriers with bedding or blankets
  • a copy of your pet’s shot records and prescription information, as well as a recent photo, in the event that you need to make lost pet flyers. (It might also be helpful to snap a photo of crucial data and save it to your cell phone.)

Advocate for Your Pets

Make sure a neighbor or friend has a key to check in on your pets and can facilitate getting them into boarding in the event that you’re hospitalized or separated from them. Someone close to your home may be essential, in case your neighborhood is evacuated before you can get home.

It’s also a good idea to have a notification sticker on your windows or doors so rescue workers know that there may be pets in the home, in the event that you’re unable to tell them.

Act Early

At the first sign of an emergency or disaster, move pets indoors or to a pre-determined safety location. Crating pets is best, because not only can it prevent them from becoming lost, but will stop them from interfering with rescue efforts. It’s best to evacuate early as to optimize your chances of finding suitable shelter. Don’t vacate without your pets. You never know when you’ll be permitted to return home. They may become lost if they can escape through damaged windows or may be overlooked during rescue efforts. Waiting for mandatory evacuation by emergency officials may mean that you’re forced to leave your pet behind.

Sure, we’d rather not think about the “what-ifs,” but it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of planning and organization to prevent a potentially heart-breaking situation.

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