Severe weather season is almost upon us here in the upper Midwest, and should we question the potential impact of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, we need only to look to our neighbors in the South, where recent storms have killed 22 people in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi. May 8, Animal Disaster Preparedness Day, reminds us that to be responsible pet owners we need to have a plan in place for ourselves AND our pets to ensure everyone’s safety and well being in the event of a natural (or other) disaster such as a tornado, hurricane, severe thunderstorm, flooding, or terrorist attack. Please check out the tips and links below and start to devise your plan today!
- First and foremost, be prepared YOURSELF. If you’re not adequately prepared, you won’t be able to keep your pets calm and safe. Preparing yourself includes knowing how and when to react to severe weather threats. Find out more about that here.
- Store personal information (or copies) like birth certificates, pertinent medical records and insurance information, medications, driver’s licenses, banking information, passports, and emergency cash in a secure (water proof, fire proof) location such as a safe in your basement. Also have on hand some food, water and basic utensils such as a can opener, additional seasonally appropriate clothing, a weather radio, etc. in a water proof, portable container.
- Create an emergency kit for your pets including bottled water, food, copies of current health records, extra leashes/collars, toilet training pads, cleanup supplies in case of accidents, life jackets, etc. Note: Recreate important documents using an online documentation server such as Google Docs to ensure that your pets’ medical information is accessible from any location. This can be invaluable if your veterinarian is located within an affected area and your pets’ medical records are not available. Documents should include copies of rabies documentation, vaccination records, special needs, a pre-made “lost pet” poster, and detailed pictures of your pets, including pictures of the the pet with you and those who are authorized to recover the animal if necessary. All emergency foster designees should be given password access to the site. Animal control will not release animals unless an individual is clearly authorized by the owner.
- Create a list of pet-friendly hotels in the event you need to evacuate your home. Emergency shelters established by the Red Cross and FEMA don’t allow pets (only service dogs), so if you want to evacuate with your pet (and it’s recommended you do NOT leave your pets behind), you’ll want to make sure you either have a pet-friendly location for all of you to stay together, or have made arrangements for your pets’ boarding at an appropriate facility. Locate pet friendly hotels at petswelcome.com or bringfido.com. Make sure to find out if they have a limit on the number of pets, if they make special concessions in an emergency, and what restrictions they place on pets (such as size).
- Coordinate with a person or facility to provide care for your pet in the event you become ill or incapacitated. You might consider a boarding facility for short term care, or a friend or family member for long term care. Did you get your dog from a professional breeder or an adoption group that would be willing to take your dog back for a period of time? Find out now if you can call on them if necessary. It’s also advised that you locate a potential caregiver outside of your immediate geographical location in the event of a natural disaster in your region. A sample written foster agreement can be found here.
- Your pets should wear multiple forms of identification (microchip and tags) and a high visibility (reflective) collar to ensure they can be seen at night. Make sure any travel pet carriers you’re using have yours and your pet’s information written on them. Note: Check with your city’s animal control to find out what their rules are for licensed and unlicensed found pets, including how long they hold the animal and what fees apply for reclaiming. The Minneapolis Animal Care and Control website reports that licensed pets are three times more likely to be returned to their owners than unlicensed pets.
- Create “lost pet” posters or a template, include a large picture, breed, coloring/markings, age, sex, and phone number to contact if found. Leave space to write in date/time and location where pet was last seen. Do not include the pet’s name on the poster. If you wish to offer a reward, do not specify an amount, simply write “Reward.” This can also be included as one of the online documents.
- Have a contact list on-hand of local animal control, shelters, and vets in your area where your pet may be taken if picked up by a stranger. Bookmark or write down these key lost dog sites in order to register your dog as soon as he goes missing: fidofinder, lostdogsearch, and pets911.Different cities have different rules about reporting and reclaiming lost pets. For example, Minneapolis Animal Care and Control requires a person report a lost pet in person UNLESS the pet is licensed with the City. Find out what the rules are in your city ahead of time.
- Desensitize your dog to emergency situations by making him comfortable with a crate, practicing with a muzzle in the event he needs to be muzzled due to injury, staying relaxed while being restrained and handled by strangers, and being comfortable riding SAFELY in the car (e.g., restrained in a seat belt or crate). See this site for helpful information about riding safely, and to get a free pet safety kit.
- Be a strong, consistent leader for your dog every day, so in an emergency he looks to you for instruction. If you stay calm and confident, your dog will feel more confident about the entire situation. If your dog doubts your leadership ability in your daily interactions, it will only make it that much more difficult to get his cooperation, and increase his anxiety during a stressful situation.
- Plan and practice common emergency scenarios. If hurricanes are common, practice loading everyone into the car: does the travel kennel fit? What adjustments need to be made? If tornadoes are common, practice going to the basement with your pets in a timely fashion. How quickly can you get to safety with your dog(s) and/or cat(s) in tow? Will they stay in place calmly for a period of time? What adjustments do you need to make so that your emergency plan can be executed as calmly and efficiently as possible
- Clearly mark the doors and/or bedroom windows of your home with a flier or sticker indicating the name, type, breed, and probable location of pets in your home, you could even include photos to aid rescue personnel (especially for cats that tend to hide when spooked).
- Include a designation for your pet(s) in your will to ensure they are cared for by a responsible caregiver in the event of your death. Sample language is located here.
Links for additional information:
Free Pet Safety Kit from BarkBuckleUp