No doubt there are a lot of things you’d rather do for your pet than devise a natural disaster preparedness plan. But as pet parents, we would do virtually anything to keep our four-legged loved ones healthy and safe. We do that as a matter of course, day to day. But if a natural disaster strikes, “normal” goes away in a heartbeat. If you’re prepared, that heartbeat won’t turn into heartbreak. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfire, tornadoes – no matter where you live, there’s something terrible Mother Nature could throw your way with little or no warning. Many thousands of pets become separated from their families when a natural disaster occurs. Sadly, the vast majority of them never find their way back home.
The best way to keep that awful scenario from happening to your family is to get ready. If you and your pets are prepared for the worst, you’ll be able to respond effectively and safely at a moment’s notice.
Evacuating pets is now a law
Recently we’ve seen multiple, terrible natural disasters in the US, the Caribbean, and in Mexico. You’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of first responders and volunteers rescuing people from precarious situations, often with pets in their arms. It’s unthinkable to leave your furry family members behind, and it significantly increases the danger to them.
Following the horrendous Hurricane Katrina, it became obvious that animals as well as people needed more effective assistance in the midst of natural disasters. In that event alone, more than 15,000 pets were separated from their families, most never reunited.
So in 2006, Congress enacted the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act. This federal law requires states that expect to receive post-disaster money and support from FEMA to prepare and implement disaster evacuation plans for service animals and pets.
But it’s still up to you to be prepared
Make a plan. FEMA may be the federal agency responsible for dealing with natural disasters after the fact, but they can also help you be proactive. They have produced a downloadable brochure that explains how to create a disaster preparedness plan for your pets.
Make sure your pets are up to date on all their vaccines. Flood waters and debris from natural disasters are contaminated, and they present many opportunities for injury. Your dog or cat may also have to temporarily stay in an animal shelter, with other pets who may be ill. Up to date immunizations will protect your pet’s health.
Keep a pet emergency first aid kit on hand. You can buy one online or in some pet supply stores. But you can also create your own. This comprehensive list of supplies shows what the Humane Society of the United States recommends for inclusion in your pet’s first aid kit.
If you live in an area that is prone to seasonal natural disasters such as hurricane, tornadoes, or wildfires, it’s smart to prepare an emergency go-bag in case you need to evacuate without warning. Keep it near an exit. It should include:
- Your pet first aid kit
- Copies of your pet’s key medical records (microchip ID number and name of the registry that holds your contact information, immunizations and dates, chronic health conditions, etc.)
- An extra collar – a harness is even better -- and leash (yes, cats, too)
- A few days’ supply of pet food
- Bottled water
- Portable food and water dishes
- Kitty litter and a scoop or poop bags
- A towel
What if you and your pet do become separated?
As a first line of defense, make sure your dog or cat wears a collar at all times, with tags that carry your contact information. You can also find collars which can be directly imprinted with this information. But every pet owner knows tags and even collars can get damaged and fall off. That’s why every pet should also have a microchip.
A microchip is very tiny, quick and virtually painless to inject, entirely safe, and permanent. You must register your pet’s number and your contact information with one of the many microchip registries, though, and update your information immediately if anything changes.
(And on a happier note, if you ever plan to travel internationally or move overseas with your pet, he’ll be required to have a microchip anyway. With his microchip already in place, you’ll be one step closer to your move.)
Preparation = peace of mind
Once you take the necessary steps to get you and your pets ready for any natural disaster, you’ll feel a tremendous sense of relief. There is nothing you can do to stop bad things from happening, but you’ll have the very best chance to keep all your family members together, healthy, and safe.