We’ve all heard the sad stories of pets left behind in the wake of natural disasters, and the thought of being separated from our pets strikes fear into the heart of any loving pet parent. Emergencies come when you least expect them, and they may require anything from a brief absence from your home to a longer term absence or even permanent evacuation. The likelihood that you and your animals will survive an emergency such as a fire, earthquake, flood, tornado, or terrorist attack depends largely on the emergency planning you do today. The best thing you can do for yourself and your pets in the unlikely event of an emergency is to be prepared, so if and when that time ever comes, you don’t have to think, you can simply act on the plans you prepared long beforehand. We include six easy steps to follow today, so that if and when an emergency ever happens, you (and your pets) will be prepared!
Step 1 Get a Free Rescue Alert Sticker from the ASPCA
The ASPCA provides a free Rescue Alert Sticker that you can place on your door or window, externally visible, to let police, rescue workers and other people know that pets are inside your home. The information you should include is the type(s) and number(s) of pets in your home, and the name and phone number of your vet. If you must evacuate with your pets, and if time allows, write “EVACUATED” across the sticker. Click here to get a free emergency pet alert sticker.
Step 2 Make sure your pet has proper, updated identification at all times.
Microchipping your pet is an extra level of protection, above the ID tags he should be wearing at all times, to permanently identify your pet in the event you become separated, or if he becomes lost. A microchip is implanted in the animal’s shoulder area, and most veterinary clinics and animal shelters have scanners to check for microchips (and do so immediately), facilitating an easy and quick reunion with you. However, don’t rely on a microchip alone to protect your pet. Identification tags still remain the most immediate and easiest way to get your pet home. ID tags offer contact info immediately (to whomever may find your pet, that someone most likely won’t have a microchip reader), so they are often a better and quicker measure than microchipping. Using both is best! Your pet’s identification tags should contain the following information:
1) your pet’s name
2) your phone number and your name
3) any important medical needs
4) recent rabies vaccination/registration
In addition, be sure to write your pet’s name, your name and contact information on his carrier or crate.
Step 3 Plan ahead for an alternative “Safe Haven” for your pets and designate a temporary caregiver
In the event of evacuation, you should have a game plan for your pets, if it is impossible to take them with you. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS BEHIND. Remember, if the situation isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets. Not all Red Cross disaster shelters accept pets, so it is important that you don’t assume they will be able to go where you go.
- Contact your veterinarian for a list of preferred pet sitters, or boarding facilities.
- Ask your local animal shelter if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets.
- Make a list of hotels or motels outside of your immediate area that accept pets (and plan to go there with them). Use a website such as Petswelcome.com, Dogfriendly, or one of the many searchable pet-friendly hotel sites available to find a nearby pet-friendly lodging.
- Ask friends and relatives outside your immediate area if they would be willing to take in your pet.
Step 4 Put together a Pet Emergency Supply Kit
Keep an Emergency Travel Kit handy for your pets (and make one for you too, while you’re at it). Everyone in your house should know where the “emergency to-go bag” is, and it should be easily accessible and stored in a cool, dry place (i.e., don’t keep your emergency travel kit hidden away in the attic or beneath all of the Christmas decorations in the storage closet). Since you’ll want to have your pet crates or carriers with you, it is ideal to keep the emergency travel kit with or near them.
Pet-related Items to keep in your supply kit (which should be a large weather- and water-proof bag) include:
- Extra Food and Water: Several days to a week’s worth of canned (pop-top) and/or dry food (canned food keeps longer than dry: keep your dry food supply pretty fresh, replacing every 2 months), keep at least a week’s worth of bottled water for every person and each pet on hand, also replacing every two months. Don’t forget the travel bowls!
- Cleanup Supplies: Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect), Paper towels or litter, Poop Bags/disposable garbage bags, Liquid dish soap and disinfectant, cleanup/grooming wipes (earthbath wipes are perfect!).
- Towels and Blankets: In a pinch, spare towels can make an impromptu bed and hopefully retain some of the scents of home and comfort a pet.
- Treats and Toys: Keep some treats, chewies, an old favorite toy, and some new special toys to occupy and soothe a stressed pet.
- Extra harness, leash, and muzzle: This is a perfect place to store an older but still functioning style when you upgrade to a new, stylish model. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a muzzle on hand, even if you don’t normally use it. Injured or stressed pups can be more prone to bite or bark, and, if emergency means you are stuck somewhere pets aren’t normally allowed, having a muzzle provides added protection for everyone around.
- Medical Records and Medicines: Photocopies of medical records including vaccination records health needs, and vet contact info (and don’t forget to update with a new copy after each checkup)! Also include a sheet with the names and contact information for at least three emergency contacts (including one outside of the area).
- A waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires (Remember, food and medications need to be rotated out of your emergency kit—otherwise they may go bad or become useless.)
- Pet First Aid book and first aid kit including essentials such as alcohol and iodine prep solutions, ointments, gauze, bandages, gloves, scissors, and tweezers
- Crate or sturdy carrier for each pet
- Recent photos of your pets including their names, any distinguishing traits/identifying features (including behavior information), along with your contact information including email and cell phone.
- Especially for cats: Pillowcases, toys, catnip, scoopable litter
- Especially for dogs: Long leash and yard stake, toys and chew toys, a week’s worth of cage liner.
Step 5 Evacuation Preparation
If you must evacuate your home in a crisis, plan for the worst-case scenario. It’s often the case that people minimize the extent of the emergency they may be caught in at first and think they may be gone for only a day, but are caught unawares and are not allowed to return for several weeks. Avoid this situation and prepare for the worst. Plan your evacuation route ahead of time, make sure you have your “to-go” bag ready, call your pet-friendly hotel, temporary caregiver or safe haven immediately to make arrangements for boarding, and follow the evacuation instructions of local and state officials, taking your pet with you.
Step 6 Plan for your specific geographic area and your climate
Do you live in an area that is prone to certain natural catastrophes, such as tornadoes, earthquakes or floods? If so, you should plan accordingly.
- Determine well in advance which rooms in your house offer safe havens. These rooms should be interior rooms and clear of hazards such as windows, multiple breakable objects, flying debris, etc.
- Choose easy-to-clean areas such as utility rooms, bathrooms, and basements as safe zones.
- Access to a supply of fresh water is important. In areas that may lose electricity, fill up bathtubs and sinks ahead of time to ensure that you have access to water during a power outage or other crises.
- In the event of flooding, go to the highest location in your home, or a room that has access to counters or high shelves where your animals can take shelter.
For more information, including specific emergency-prep needs for other animals such as birds, reptiles, rodents, and horses see the ASPCA’s Disaster Preparedness site, and the Ready.gov site. The READY Campaign, sponsored by FEMA, the American Red Cross, and the Humane Society, among other organizations, has a number of links and tools for Pet Preparedness in the event of an emergency, including resources on how to stay current on your local pet disaster plan, policies and procedures; examples of how to promote preparedness in your communities and engage other organizations in your efforts; as well as resources to educate the community about how to assemble a pet emergency supply kit and make a family emergency plan.