Preparing for Disaster
How do I prepare my dogs in case of a natural disaster?
Although no one likes to think about it, preparing for a disaster such as fire, flood, tornado, hurricane or other emergency before it happens can save you valuable time. Let’s review some guidelines so you can be ready in case your dog gets injured, lost or has to be evacuated.
The first thing to have in place is your dog’s identification. Make sure he is wearing a collar and tag with up-to-date information. Collar tags usually have room for several phone numbers. It is a good idea to include your home phone and cell phone along with the phone number of a friend or relative outside of your immediate area in case you have had to evacuate.
Consider having your dog microchipped, which will increase your chances of being reunited with your lost dog. Make sure the microchip registration is in your name and the contact information is up to date. Nothing is more frustrating than finding a dog who has a chip in place but no information is on file in order to find the owner.
I recommend having your dog wear some type of collar identification as well as being microchipped. Collars can slip off while the microchip will remain in place. However, the average person who finds your lost dog won’t be able to immediately scan for a chip, but they will be able to read a tag on the collar. Most veterinary hospitals and shelters have scanners that can read all types of microchips.
Make an evacuation plan
The next item to attend to is the formulation of a plan for what you will do in case of emergency. Having a plan in place will enable you make quick, clear decisions. If local officials ask you to evacuate, it will be a big help if you know ahead of time where you can go with your dog.
If you are ordered to evacuate, take your dog with you. If it isn’t safe for you to stay at home, it is not going to be safe for your dog. In most cases, you have no way of knowing how long you will be kept out of the area and you may not be allowed to go back for your pets.
If you have advance warning, it is always recommended to evacuate early. Don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation order. Some people who have waited to be evacuated by emergency officials have been told to leave their pets behind. The smell of smoke, the sound of high winds or the rumble of thunder may make your dog fearful and difficult to load into a crate or carrier. Leaving before the conditions become severe will keep everyone safer and make the process less stressful.
Do not assume that you will be allowed to bring your dog with you to an emergency shelter or that nearby shelters will be able to accommodate everyone. Before a disaster strikes, it is a good idea to check the website of your local office of emergency management to see if you will be allowed to evacuate with your dogs.
Those of us with multiple dogs need to plan especially well. Make a list of animal-friendly places and call ahead for a reservation as soon as you think you might have to leave your home. These are a few websites that will help you find pet-friendly accommodations: Bringfido.com, Dogfriendly.com, Doginmysuitcase.com, Petswelcome.com and Tripswithpets.com.
Ask friends or relatives outside your immediate area if they would be able to shelter you and your dog, or just your dog, if necessary. With multiple dogs, it may be necessary to arrange to house them at separate locations. Boarding facilities, veterinary offices or animal shelters might be open to providing temporary care for dogs in disaster emergencies. Write down a list of their 24-hour telephone numbers.
Put together an emergency kit for your dog
Just as you will have an emergency kit for you and your family, gather together the things that your dog will need. It is a good idea to have two kits – one larger kit if you are sheltering in place and one lightweight version if you need to evacuate. Go through your kits regularly to ensure that their contents, especially foods and medications, are fresh.
When assembling a kit for your dog, think about the basics for survival. Keep a three- to seven-day supply of food in an airtight, waterproof container. Include food and water bowls and several days’ supply of bottled water. Pack an extra supply of the medicine your dog takes in a waterproof container.
Other items to include are grooming supplies, flashlight, extra batteries, cleaning products, trash bags, paper towels, poopbags and disinfectant. Add a backup leash, collar and ID tag. Put some favorite toys or treats in the kit. Familiar items can help reduce stress for your dog.
Have copies of your dog’s registration, licensing and medical information in a waterproof container and available electronically. Be prepared to show proof of vaccination status. Pictures of your dog alone and together with you will help document ownership and allow others to assist you in finding and identifying your dog if lost. Compile a list of emergency contact numbers, including your veterinarian and pharmacy.
Make a plan for staying at home
If you must stay home and wait out a storm or other disaster, determine which part of the house is safest. Make sure it is large enough so you are all able to stay together. Check around this designated “safe room” and remove any dangerous items such as tools or toxic products. Put your emergency supplies in that room in advance, including your dog’s crate and bedding. Have any medications and a supply of dog food and water inside in airtight containers, along with your other emergency supplies.
Ensure that you have contact with the outside world via television, radio, tablet or cell phone. Do not leave your safe room until you know for certain the danger has passed. Pay attention to emergency alerts from local and state officials. Download the FEMA app and get weather updates from the National Weather Service.
After the disaster
Survey the area inside and outside your home to identify sharp objects, dangerous materials, contaminated water, downed power lines or other hazards. Maintain a close watch on your dogs when taken outdoors. They could encounter unexpected wildlife or debris if unsupervised.
The disruption of normal activities can be the biggest cause of stress for your pets. Try to re-establish a normal schedule as soon as you can. The simple act of petting can reduce anxiety for both people and pets.
If your dogs are lost, physically check animal control and animal shelters daily for lost dogs. Some emergency-response agencies may also use social media to post information about lost and found dogs.
Utilize online resources for lost and found animals and post waterproof lost-animal notices. Notify local law enforcement, animal care and control officials, veterinarians and your neighbors of any lost animals. If your dog is lost and has a microchip, notify the microchip registry that your dog is missing.
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s brochure entitled “Saving the Whole Family” (also available in Spanish) offers a comprehensive list of what needs to be done to safeguard pets before, during and after a disaster. You can learn more by viewing the “Saving the Whole Family: Disaster Prep for Your Pets” video on YouTube.