When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, more than 250,000 pets — from cats and dogs to parrots and fish — were left stranded by the storm's destruction. Many owners who expected to return within a few days left food and water for their pets. But days turned into weeks, and the pets had to struggle to survive.
For pet owners, saving their beloved animals from approaching disaster can be as important as caring for themselves. Not many years after Katrina, some 15 million dogs, 14 million cats, and 1.5 million horses were in the path of Hurricane Sandy, according to the American Humane Association.
Many people believe first responders will care for their pets, but their obligation is to people. Few have training in animal rescue and handling, and that is not the priority in an emergency. In fact, pets can be an obstacle for first responders, hindering their ability to perform their jobs. The best thing you can do is to have a plan and all the equipment and supplies you might need to protect your pets in an emergency before disaster strikes.
Since 2004, National Preparedness Month, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has been observed every September. Now is the time to create a plan and explore the services in your area. A good place to start is with your veterinarian, your state veterinary office, or the regional ASPCA.
Here are some additional steps you can take:
- Get a Rescue Alert sticker for your home, identifying your pets.
- Make sure your pet's veterinary care and vaccination records are available.
- Arrange a safe haven in case you must leave your home.
- Build an emergency supplies and traveling kit.
- Choose designated caregivers.
- Prepare your family and pets for possible evacuation.
- Keep in mind some pets have special needs that may include medications and diet.
You can also create an Evacuation Kit. Some of the items to include are:
- A pet first-aid kit and guide book; ask your vet what to include in the kit.
- Three to seven days' worth of canned (pop-top) or dry food
- Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)
- Litter or paper towels
- Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
- Disposable garbage bags for clean-up
- Non-breakable pet feeding dishes
- An extra collar or harness, as well as an extra leash
- Photocopies of medical records and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires
- Bottled water; at least seven days' worth for each person and pet
- A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier; ideally, one for each pet
- Flashlight and backup batteries
- Blanket for scooping up a fearful pet
- Recent photos of your pets, in case you are separated
- Especially for cats: a pillowcase or EvackSack, toys, scoopable litter
- Especially for dogs: an extra leash, toys and chew toys, a week's worth of cage liner
You can make this a family project so that everyone in the family knows what's in the kit and where it is in the event of an emergency. Taking these measures now can give both you and your family peace of mind.
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