Pet Owner Emergency Planning (Part 5~6)
(Continued from Part 1~4)
Part 5 – Taking your pet.
Now that you have assessed what constitutes an emergency, what your reactions to different situations might be, and where you can go if you have to get out, we will look at what you need to be ready to grab as you go out the door. The most important thing, apparently, is your pet(s). Why state the obvious? Well, believe it or not, some people don’t always think it’s necessary. Also, in the first minutes of a significant event, there isn’t always a lot of information to go on.
Authorities are still assessing the situation. They are most concerned with preventing people from being injured or killed so that they might order an evacuation as a precautionary measure. Yes, you might be back home for an hour or two, but you can’t count on that! When a freight train derailed in the Wisconsin town of Weyauwega causing several tank cars of LP gas to catch fire, and the fire chief ordered the town evacuated, people were generally told it was “until the fire is put out.” That’s all anyone knew at the time. What does that sound like to you? A few hours? Maybe a day?
This was in 1996, and back then the common thought was to leave the pets with two days food and water, and they’ll be OK. People were not told to take their pets with. As the tank cars continued to burn and the pressure inside them built to the point where they could explode, it was deemed too dangerous for the firefighters to keep fighting the fire until more of the contents had burned off, lowering the pressure in the tanks. The evacuation lasted for 18 days.
In the case of Hurricane Katrina, people had been through it all before so many times that they thought they knew just what to expect. Either it would be another false alarm, and they would be back home in a day, or the hurricane would blow through, and in two or three days they would be back home. Everyone I talked to, no matter what their story of why they did or didn’t evacuate or could or couldn’t take their pets, all ended their story with the same line, “Nobody counted on the flooding.” So if you are told to get out, ALWAYS take your pets, no matter what you think of the situation or how long you think you will be gone. Better a dozen false alarms than one major case of regret.
So if next disaster comes, you will put the pet in the car and go, right? But what if you don’t have access to a car? What if you don’t have room in the car for all the pets and people? Or if you’re not home at the time? Or what if you have too many animals for one trip? And what if you have an animal that is difficult to transport (like horses, or tropical fish)? And what do you need to take with to care for these animals? These are all things you need to consider. All this in addition to what you have to consider for evacuating your kids, seniors, etc. See why pre-planning is so essential?
Dogs are probably the simplest. To their wild ancestors, the pack represented safety. So they wanted to stick with the pack. For domestic dogs, their people are their pack. “A car ride? Cool! Let’s go!” You will need to have a secure collar and leash, and I don’t mean a retractable leash. If your dog requires a harness or halter to control them, keep it ready to grab in a hurry. If your dog is small enough to ride in a carrier, I strongly recommend it to keep them safe and controlled. Carriers are also the best way to keep them safe if you have to shelter in place. If you have to be evacuated by bus, there might or might not be rules about having pets in carriers, but either way, they will be more welcome and be safer if they’re contained in some way.
With cats, a carrier is a MUST! They’re not good travelers, and all the noise and confusion could scare them. Likewise, a carrier is the best solution for ferrets, rabbits, chinchillas, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, guinea pigs, rats, birds, and some lizards, snakes, and tortoises. Reptile experts have told me that larger reptiles can travel well in plastic tote bins. For tiny pocket pets like hamsters, gerbils, or mice you can buy a small travel cage or make one out of a plastic shoebox. It is much easier than trying to cram that whole big habit rail in your car.
Likewise, tiny birds can be transferred to a small birdcage if their house cage is too big. Don’t do anything like the fellow who brought his African Grey parrot to the bus evacuation point for Hurricane Gustav in its large house cage. We didn’t have a hard side cat carrier to transfer it to, so we managed to cram the large cage into one of the bus seats, but the bird almost ended up riding in the truck with the larger dogs. Horses require a lot of preplanning, as well as a trailer to haul them in, and you have to train them to load into the trailer. Fish–I will leave to the fish experts on this forum in another installment.
Make sure that everything that can wear a collar, harness or halter is also wearing identification! It also helps to add a temporary tag with the address and phone number of where you will be staying or an alternate phone number outside the area that can relay a message to you. The kind of key tags you can write on work well for this. Animals in cages or carriers should have this information on their enclosures.
Horses should have an ID on their halters or write it on their side with a livestock crayon. And I can’t say this enough: MICROCHIP! Yes, it takes a scanner to read it, but that’s the one form of ID your pet can’t lose. If possible, have an alternate contact (your vet, or someone in another town) on file with the chip company along with your information.
Even if your pet has been gone so long that you are sure you will never see them again, keep your information up to date with the microchip registry. There are many stories of pets that showed up months or even years later. That chip is also your proof of ownership if there is ever a dispute. A lot of the heartaches after Katrina could have been avoided with microchips.
Future installments will cover what else you should bring and other considerations.
Part 6. Grab and Go: The Basic Must-have
OK, you’ve got your pet. What else do you need? Food? Toys? Crate? Sometimes it depends on where you are going, and whether or not you will be able to buy more when you get there. Think. What is unique to your pet alone? What if you can’t go out and buy, and won’t have access if your vet is shut down? Records. If you don’t pack anything else, pack this.
If your pet gets sick while you are evacuated or if you are vacationing out of town or if you have to make that midnight trip to the all-night emergency vet, you can’t get to your regular vet. So bringing your pet’s medical records with you will help get a strange vet up to speed, especially if your pet has an ongoing condition or is on medication for anything.
It’s also useful for a pet sitter if s/he has to take your pet to a vet. They probably don’t know your pet’s medical history as well as you do. And what if you need to check your dog into a boarding kennel? Or board your cat (or whatever)? They’re going to want proof of rabies vaccination. What if your pet gets lost while you’re away from your familiar territory? They won’t be able to find their way back. The faster you can get a lost-pet poster put together and distributed and notify animal control, the better.
But how will they know what your pet looks like? Try describing your pet to someone and see if they can identify them. It’s harder than you think, especially if they’re a purebred that looks like any other of their breed. Having some good photographs with your records will make it a lot easier for your pet to be identified. Be sure to include shots of any unique markings, even on paw pads or the tongue. Also, photograph any ear tattoos. Having a copy of their microchip number will be even better.
What about claiming your pet from animal control, or checking them out of an emergency shelter? How do you prove that you’re the owner? If they can scan the microchip and you’ve kept the registration up to date, and you have ID showing who you are, that should be sufficient. Of course, if your pet is wearing tags (ID and license) that would simplify things. But what if they can’t scan the chip, if you never registered the chip, if your pet’s not chipped, or if they weren’t wearing tags? Having a photo of you and your pet together will help. With these basics, you should have everything your pet will need that you can not buy elsewhere.
It’s important to keep all these records together in a folder, envelope or something, in a place where it won’t get lost and is easy to grab quickly on your way out the door. I have numerous cats, and I take in strays and find homes for them. To keep all their medical records straight, they each have their folder, and all these folders are in a small tote bag that hangs on the kitchen doorknob. Later I realized that if I include microchip info, license tag numbers, and some good photos, they were all set for whatever.
My standard instructions to my cat sitters are: if anyone gets sick or hurt, put them in a carrier, grab the bag, and head for the vet. Whatever you’ll need will be somewhere in that bag. Now I’m old school. I like the convenience of paper records, and I’m not used to thinking in terms of computers. But someone pointed out to me that these records and photos can be scanned and transferred to a DVD or thumb-drive for easier storage. This might be easier to carry, but just in case there’s no computer handy, I recommend keeping paper copies also.
I’m even more out of date when it comes to cell phones. At a disaster response workshop, I learned that you could store family information on your self, kids, and even pets on your smartphone. Yes, there is an app for that! The easiest grab-and-go yet!
(Have any question or comment? Post on our Pet Forum.)