I’ll never forget watching the scenes from Hurricane Katrina many years back. During the evacuation, families were forced to leave their pets behind because they were not allowed in the busses or shelters. People were rescued from rooftops of flooded homes desperately clinging to their pets, but Emergency Officials were not permitted to take the animals. They simply left them alone to fend for themselves. Depending on where you get your news, it is estimated that approximately 250,000 pets were left behind during Katrina. Oh my goodness, it was the most heartbreaking thing ever.
Because of the devastation on the animal population during Katrina, the resulting media uproar, and a slew of complaints to authorities, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act was passed to require states seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance to accommodate pets and service animals in their plans for evacuating residents facing disasters. Although the Act requires these states to make “accommodations” for these pets, it doesn’t mean that they will not be separated from us in doing so. Many shelters still do not allow animals. I personally couldn’t stand the thought of having my dog separated from me during the chaos of a storm… just when he needs me most. The safety and protection of our pet falls upon us. Our preparation and forethought can make the difference.
We are not exempt from natural disasters in the Richmond area. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel blew through Richmond at peaks of 79 MPH causing an estimated 1.85 billion in damage. Then the very next year, Hurricane Gaston, dumped 10 – 12 inches of rain in our area. Do you remember the images of Shockoe Bottom submerged in water after the storm passed through? Most recently were the deadly tornadoes in the Tappahannock area and throughout Central VA this past February.
What can you do to prepare for a natural disaster or weather emergency?
First of all, if a storm is on the horizon, stay on top of it. Keep your radio or TV on and listen for instructions. An advanced notice isn’t always possible, especially with tornadoes, but generally, you have some time, albeit limited, to be proactive. Let’s not wait until the last minute to have things ready. Have a plan to make sure your pet is able to safely stay with you and the family.
Then, bring your pets inside. It’s not safe for them to be outside. If it isn’t safe for you, it’s not safe for them… and you certainly don’t want to be outside during a tornado or hurricane. A dog house or kennel will not provide the protection they need. Plus, it will be scary for them. They need to feel the closeness and security of their family.
Jonathan McNamara, Communications Director for the American Red Cross of Virginia, offers us this advice: “First of all, I would encourage your readers to download American Red Cross, Pet first Aid App. The app gives iPhone and Android smartphone users instant access to expert information so they learn how to maintain their pet’s health and what to do during emergencies.” This app contains a wealth of information. It is a “must have” for all pet owners.
He continues, “Second, I would suggest having your followers include extra pet food and medications in their emergency preparedness kit. Disasters by their very nature are chaotic and taking the time to prepare before disasters hit will give you extra time to focus on getting to a safe place.”
As Jonathan suggests, put together an emergency kit and fill it with supplies your pet may need for at least 3 days. Your American Red Cross Pet First Aid App will help you fill it with all that you may need. Whether you shelter-in-place, or grab it and run, the kit should have pet food, bottled water, and treats. If your pet is on any medication, make sure you include it in your emergency rations. If you have cats, don’t forget the litter and pan.
What if you have to evacuate?
Have your pet’s crate or carrier ready to go to assure safe transport. Place a fluffy towel or some type of comfortable bedding inside and throw in one of your pet’s toys. They will find comfort in the familiarity and smell of their own things.
Probably one of the most important things you can do is to make sure your dog and/or cat has on a well-fitting collar with current identification. Better yet, have them microchipped. Include your cell phone number on the ID, not the land-line number which could be rendered useless in a storm. During an emergency, heaven-forbid, your pet may get away from you. Proper ID will increase the chances of a happy reuniting.
If you have to evacuate, do it early. Don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation. And it should go without saying, but take your pets with you. Who wouldn’t, right? But, many well-meaning people leave their pet in the house with an abundance of food and water thinking they will return in a few days. During Katrina, it was months before some people were allowed to return to their homes. Isn’t that tragic?
It’s a good idea to check with pet facilities within and outside of your area, just in case the need arises that you must board your pets rather than take them with you. Know where the facilities are located, if they have emergency back-up generators, and what provisions are made to protect your pet in case of disaster.
Something else we don’t often think about is what to do after the storm. One would think that you would let your pet outside as quickly as possible after being cooped up for hours on end waiting for the storm to pass. But here’s the kicker… things have changed outside. Scents and familiar landmarks may be gone. Your pet could easily get disoriented and may not be able to find his way home. It would be best to lead your pet around on a leash for a couple of days following the storm.
BTW, Hurricane season begins this month (June 1st) and runs through November! Now is the best time to put together the emergency kits for your pet and for your family.
About Katrina… On a happier note, many private rescue groups, individuals, as well as better known groups such as “Best Friends” worked diligently to rescue and provide food, shelter and medical care to the animals left behind in Hurricane Katrina. As a matter of fact, Holiday Barn Pet Resorts worked closely with the Richmond SPCA to provide care for the pets who were displaced from their families by making sure that the pets were well cared for during their period of need. Our community pitched in to provide necessities like leashes, collars, crates, food bowls, etc.. Although miles away from New Orleans floods and devastation, our amazing community welcomed these homeless animals with open arms.