Pet Owner Emergency Planning (Part 1~4)

Pet Owner Emergency Planning (Part 1~4)

Pet owner emergency planning is crucial in the case of any natural or human-made disasters.  Everyone pet owner should have some “just in case” plans.  

I volunteer with a national organization that does emergency animal sheltering for disasters and criminal seizures. When we are not involved in the response, we are encouraged to go to pet or community safety events to educate people how to have a disaster plan for their pets.

So many pet owners don’t think beyond grabbing the pets and going.  I accepted an offer from a Wisconsin dog forum called Wisconsin Wags to post a series of articles on emergency preparedness on their site. With the permission of Pets Keepers Guide administrator, I will be re-posting them to this forum.

As a pet owner (cats), a disaster responder, and the daughter of a fireman, I would like to think I know a lot about this subject, but I know I am not an expert. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Part 1. A Wake-Up Call

On 6/21/2010, I was watching weather reports about the tornado that hit Eagle, WI. A reporter was covering the story from the Incident Command Center at the Eagle Fire Station. He was interviewing the survivors, including a family with two dogs waiting for friends to come pick the family up. Others told stories like, “We grabbed the cat and dog and got to the basement just in time.”

What if that had been you? What would you have done? Could YOU have gotten all of your animals to the basement in time? Do you have extra supplies and food down there in case you have to survive until roads are cleared, and help can get to you? Do you have a first-aid kit with only pet-safe items in it, and do you know how to use it? Could you control bleeding, know what to do about an impaled object, or stabilize a broken limb until you could get your pet to a vet? If your regular vet is shut down, do you have your pet’s medical records so another vet could review them quickly?

If your house is damaged and your pets panic and escape, are they wearing ID tags? Are they microchipped in case the tags come off and get lost? Do you have current ID photos in your emergency kit so you can make a Lost Pet poster or identify your pet with Animal Control? What about after you get out, if your homeowner’s policy will pay to house you while repairs are being made, does that include your pet?

It’s a lot to think about. Most people don’t think beyond escaping the immediate threat. As I would like to say, there’s more to evacuation than put the dog in the car and go. Tune in regularly, and we can get the pet community better prepared. Just because we don’t get hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, or major wildfires here in the upper Midwest doesn’t mean we don’t need it. Those of you who do live in disaster-prone areas know you will need to be ready.

So maybe you can glean some additional suggestions from this that will be useful. And don’t forget that human-made disasters can strike anywhere any time! Remember: you are your pet’s first line of defense in an emergency.

3/11/2012 Today is the one year anniversary of the enormous earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Pay attention to all the documentaries that are being re-run. Remember the VERY disaster-prone spring and summer of 2011 with floods, tornadoes, east-coast hurricanes, wildfires, and severe drought. With the recent outbreak of tornadoes across the Midwest, it is looking like this year might be lively too. GET READY!

Part 2. What is an Emergency?
Calling it “Disaster Preparedness” is a bit misleading. That makes people think of things like tornadoes, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, etc. The problem with that is tornadoes, floods, and wildfires are infrequent, and hurricanes and earthquakes virtually nonexistent. So people in the upper Midwest think they’re safe. They don’t consider that they are vulnerable to fires, chemical spills, plane crashes, explosions, etc.

Mother Nature isn’t the only threat around. Human-made threats can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone. Better to call this part of the website “Emergency Preparedness.” An emergency is anything that affects you suddenly and adversely and causes you to react to manage the situation until it can be resolved or you can get help. It can be as broad as another Katrina, or as simple as a main gas leaking on your block. It can even be that midnight trip to the emergency vet with a sick or injured pet that can’t wait until morning (or Monday).

Usually, our typical reaction to any emergency is to call 911. But you can’t call paramedics for an injured pet. Or there might not be time to call, the phone lines or cell towers might be down, or the 911 authorities might be the ones telling you to get the heck out NOW! Your reaction might be to grab your family and pets and run for safety, to hunker down and find shelter, or to do your best to keep your pet alive until you can get them to the vet.

Am I scaring you? I shouldn’t be. You are scared if you are threatened by a situation you don’t know how to react to. If you have considered what you might have to face, thought out what you could do in each case, worked out what your options are, decided what tools and equipment you might need and assemble them, and (most of all) rehearsed your response, then you won’t be scared.

Your training and practice will click on and you will react. And that can save valuable time. It’s not complicated. Mostly, you need to have a plan of action in mind and be prepared to follow it. If you’re dithering and running in circles, you’re part of the problem and not part of the solution.

The first thing you need to look at is what sort of situations you might be facing. In each case, your reaction will be to either take shelter or get out. Some situations, like an imminent explosion or an advancing chemical cloud, you grab and run. Others, like a flood or hurricane, you have to get out but you can do it calmly in an orderly fashion. Still others, you can choose to evacuate or stay. In a wintertime power failure, you might decide to send the kids and pets to stay elsewhere, while you remain to drain the pipes and winterize the house.

In the case of a tornado warning or if the siren goes off, there’s no choice; take cover! Some things, like earthquakes or explosions, strike without warning. Then your plan is based on how to get by until help arrives and a way to get out is cleared.

Looking after kids in these situations can be difficult, but adding pets to the mix is another thing entirely. They are perpetual two-year-olds.  They don’t understand that the food has to last a while.  That the wire in the street could be dangerous  Why everyone is upset. They need their own equipment and food. You need to be prepared to get them out of harm’s way and care for them until you can get life back to normal. And that takes some pre-planning. It’s not complicated. In the following, I will outline some simple steps you can take to make evacuation with pets go more smoothly.

Part 3. Where to Go? Part I

(First posted July 4, 2010) Today is July 4th. One year ago, two young men playing with fireworks shot a flare into the roof of the Patrick Cudahy Meat Plant and set it on fire. The fire raged for several days, and at one point came close enough to the huge tanks of ammonia refrigerant that an evacuation order for anyone within one mile of the plant was given. People were told to take their pets.

The Wisconsin Humane Society set up an emergency animal shelter next to the Red Cross shelter at South Milwaukee High School. The fire was gotten under control before the tanks were reached, and people were back in their homes that same evening, but it could have been much worse.

The Red Cross is very efficient at setting up and operating emergency shelters, and with the lessons of Weyauwega and Katrina behind us, we have gotten better at providing for pets. An emergency shelter is intended to be an initial meet-up and sort-out point, and as a court of last resort for those with absolutely no other place to stay. So what are your options?

First, do you have your transportation, and can you afford a hotel or motel for at least a few days? Will your homeowner insurance pay to put you up until you can get back into your house? Do you know what hotels or motels you can go to with your pets? will help you locate pet-friendly motels, but be aware that the term “pet-friendly” does NOT mean all pets.

Contact the individual facilities and find out what their rules are for pets. Some may not allow more than one pet per room, or no dogs over thirty pounds, or no birds, or they require a non-refundable pet deposit, or there are a limited number of places pets are allowed in, and when those are full, you are out of luck. So know where you can go with your particular pets, and check every year or so to be sure the policy hasn’t changed. Also, have several backup choices in case your first choice is full.

If you choose to stay with friends or relatives, make sure there are no allergies, condo or apartment rules, or conflicts with their pets that would prohibit this. Take a close look at how you would fit in. Would your dog need to be in a bedroom or the basement when no one is home so it doesn’t get into trouble?

Maybe you need to bring or buy a pet crate. Is the yard securely fenced so the dog can get some exercise? Or do you need to provide a tie-out stake and chain? What if your friends/relatives are out of town? Do you have a backup plan? If you decide to board your dog at a kennel, do you have the proper proof of vaccinations with you? What if they fill up; do you have a backup plan?

You are much better off making your arrangements for where to stay, and the best time to do this is BEFORE you need it. Have a plan.

Part 4. Where to Go? Part II
What if your only option is the Red Cross shelter? Ideally, the pet shelter will be set up next to the people shelter so you can go over several times a day and care for your pet. This gives you something to do besides sitting and worrying about your house, and it comforts your pets to have their familiar person around. This concept is called co-sheltering, and it’s what the organization in charge will try to do, but it might not always be possible. It depends on the available facilities and how many people they are trying to shelter.

During the ’08 flooding in Cedar Rapids, IA, there were several Red Cross shelters in the suburbs, and the pet shelter (which operated for a month and a half) was located in the equestrian show barn at the community college. People were encouraged to visit their pets, but transportation was sometimes an issue. Volunteers were often doing the feeding and walking.

I can’t speak for animal sheltering organizations other than the one I volunteer with. There will likely be some system of identification to prove you are the pet’s rightful owner.  You will have to check in and out when you come to care for them. You might also be escorted to and from your pet. Children might not be allowed in the shelter. This is for the safety and liability of everyone involved. Think of this pet shelter in terms of a daycare center of sorts; we want to take excellent care of these animals and make sure they get back to the right person. Get ready to put up with some red tape.

The pet shelter will likely be operated by, or under the authority of, the local animal authorities (often Animal Control). They will dictate how the pet shelter will operate. When the shelter will end. You will have to have your pets out whether you have a place to stay or not. They will also dictate what will happen to unclaimed pets. In some cases, this will be based on an arrangement with Emergency Management.  In other cases, it might be based on their standard policies for stray animals. Ideally, they have mutual-aid agreements with surrounding communities for assistance.

Notice that I said, “Red Cross Shelter” above. In the hurricane that went up the east coast in 2011, there were reports in the news of shelters allowing pets to shelter with their owners. During the wildfires in San Diego a few years back where Qualcom Stadium was turned into a shelter, news coverage showed families and their pets sheltering together. What’s the difference? I’m told the Red Cross cannot allow pets in their shelters because they cook and serve food and therefore have to adhere to restraint health codes.

The Red Cross is the organization communities usually turn to shelter and care for displaced persons after a disaster. I gather from what I heard that the shelters opened during Hurricane that were pet-friendly were community-run shelters, probably for people living in high-risk areas to ride out the hurricane in. If they serve any food, it’s most likely MREs. They can make their own rules about allowing pets. That’s the difference.

Someone from Florida told me that some communities and military bases offer shelters like this for their people.  It is a case of “Ok, here’s the building. Bring everything you need.” or “There are some cots and cases of MREs in the back. Set it up yourself.”

I’m not sure what the case with Qualcom was; maybe this was a community shelter, or maybe the way the building was set up got around the restaurant codes. This is where it pays to find out what threats are most likely in your area, and what your local Emergency Management’s plan is.

No matter what the arrangement for an emergency pet shelter is, you are better off making your arrangements if you possibly can. So PLAN!!!

(Have any question or comment? Post on our Pet Forum.

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