By Dianne Cook LVT
Saturday, May 8th is National Animal Preparedness Day. Though it can be scary and uncomfortable to think about, disasters can happen at any time, often with little-to-no warning. In an emergency, when time is of the essence, it can be difficult and stressful to ensure your entire family (both human and animal) get to safety. To help limit chaos in the heat of the moment, is it best to prepare ahead of time by ensuring you have a well-thought-out disaster plan in place.
What Counts as a Disaster?
Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Smaller storms can target individual neighborhoods, while larger events can be more widespread, affecting entire cities or counties. As we’ve all learned, health-related disasters, like pandemics, can impact an entire nation – or even the world. Though not an exhaustive list, the following emergencies should be considered when creating a thorough disaster preparedness plan.
- Tornados – One of the most destructive of all atmospheric storms, tornados are violently rotating columns of air extending from the clouds to the surface of the earth. Under the right conditions, they can occur anywhere in the world.
- Hurricanes – The name for tropical cyclones with heavy, sustained winds in the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and easter North Pacific Ocean. In the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans, this same tropical storm is known as a typhoon.
- Earthquakes – A trembling of the earth’s surface caused by a volcanic eruption or a collision between two sections of the earth’s crust. While some earthquakes are barely noticeable, others can cause significant destruction.
- Blizzard – A severe snowstorm characterized by low temperatures, strong winds, and significant snowfall lasting for a prolonged time. Visibility is often limited due to blowing snow.
- Landslides – Fast-moving soil, rocks, and water that flow down steep slopes and canyons during heavy rain.
- Floods – High water flow, often caused by an overflow of rivers or streams, during times of intense rainfall or substantial ice melt, or as the result of a failed dam or levy.
- Tsunami – A series of giant, fast-moving waves formed by an underwater earthquake, landslide, or volcanic eruption. Waves can reach several hundred feet high when they make it to shallow waters and hit the shore.
- Fires – House fires occur within a home and can be caused by internal or external factors. If living in a wooded or brushland area, especially in a time of drought, nearby wildfires may force you to evacuate your home, even if your house, itself, is not on fire.
- Serious Health Concerns – As the last year has proven, events like a nationwide pandemic can have a substantial impact on how easy it is to leave your home or purchase food and supplies for yourself and your furry friends. Along the same lines, a family emergency or personal illness/injury may take you away from the home unexpectedly, requiring you to find a haven until the situation improves.
What Can I Do to Prepare?
In times of a disaster, if you must evacuate, your pets must evacuate as well. If you have to shelter-in-place, so must your pets. The following considerations are a great step toward creating a disaster preparedness plan, but it is always advisable to speak with a trusted veterinarian to ensure all considerations are taken to best meet the individual needs of your personal pets. It’s also best to educate yourself on what types of natural disasters are most prevalent in your area to make certain you are as prepared as possible.
- Pet Rescue Alert Sticker – These convenient stickers indicate there are animals within the home that may need to be rescued. They should be placed on the front door of your home, in a visible location, so rescue workers know how many animals are within the residence. It is best to indicate how many of each species there are so rescuers know what to look for (e.g. 2 rabbits, 3 guinea pigs, 1 dog, etc.) and can ensure the correct number of animals are safely removed. If you were able to evacuate your pets yourself, and if you have time, it is recommended to write “evacuated” across the sticker to alert first responders.
- Early Detection – Having a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Weather Radio tuned to your local emergency station is one of the most accurate ways to monitor severe weather warnings in your area. Local news outlets, radio stations, and mobile weather apps are also great ways to access complete weather coverage.
- Evacuate Early – Whenever possible, do not wait for mandatory evacuation orders. Disaster conditions are often scary, loud, and hectic, especially if you’re rushing to get your animals evacuated after a storm has already hit. These intense conditions can cause additional stress to small mammals who are already especially sensitive to stressful situations.
- Emergency Kit – Keeping a fully stocked, grab-and-go emergency kit for your furry friends is one of the best ways to ensure you have all that you need to keep your pets healthy and safe should disaster strike. Read How to Build a Small Pet Emergency Kit to learn more.
- Designate a Safe Space – If you’re forced to leave your home, for whatever reason, you’ll want to find somewhere safe for your fur babies to stay until the threat passes.
- Friends and Family – Ask trusted loved ones if they are able and willing to take you and your pets in while things settle down. Talk with local friends and family, as well as those who live outside of your immediate area, so you can feel confident you have a safe place for your little ones regardless of how far you have to travel. It’s important to have these conversations in advance so you’re not surprising anyone with a frantic request.
- Find an Emergency Caregiver (or Two) – Not all disasters require you to evacuate your home, but some may make it difficult or impossible to get home. Dangerous road conditions, sudden hospitalizations, family emergencies, or any number of urgent, unanticipated scenarios can leave your furry friends’ home alone without care. Talk with trusted, small mammal-savvy neighbors, friends, and family members who live close by so you know you always have a backup plan in case you can’t make it home to care for your little ones.
- Hotels – One of the most straightforward options is to determine which hotels/motels in your area, or along common evacuation routes, have pet-friendly policies. Make sure to ask if they have discounted pet rates during emergencies or if they’re willing to waive their pet policy altogether during an evacuation. Keep a pet-friendly hotel list handy so you’re not scrambling to find it when a storm is approaching.
- Animal Care Facilities – While not as ideal as keeping your pets with you, consider including small mammal-friendly boarding facilities, animal shelters, and vet clinics in your search.
- Post-Disaster Emergency Shelter – During a widespread disaster, emergency shelters are often provided by the federal government or local/national charity organizations to give folks a place to stay throughout the clean-up and reconstruction phase. These shelters provide basic needs such as food, water, medicine, and sanitary facilities, but many are loud, overcrowded, and not animal friendly. Touch base with your local emergency management office to determine if any known emergency shelter sites welcome people and their pets (including exotic companion mammals).
What If I Can’t Evacuate?
Despite immaculate disaster planning, there are times evacuation won’t be possible. Extreme weather conditions can arise suddenly or worsen without warning. Similarly, there will be times that evacuation won’t be necessary, though safety precautions will still need to be taken. As a result, in addition to a steadfast evacuation plan, it’s equally important to create a shelter plan.
Sheltering is appropriate when conditions require you to seek shelter in your home when emergencies arise. The length of time you are required to take shelter may be short, such as during a tornado warning, or for an extended period, like many have experienced during the COVID pandemic. In all cases, it is important that you stay informed and follow the instructions of local authorities.
- Designate “Safe Rooms” – Windowless rooms (such as utility rooms and bathrooms) and basements make great safe zones to guard against flying or falling debris. During a flood, seek out the highest location in the home or find a room with tall counters, cabinets, and shelves on which animals can safely stay within an enclosure or pet carrier until the threat passes.
- Prepare Your Home – If you’re facing weather conditions accompanied by high winds (like tornados) close all the doors and windows and ensure air vents and fireplace dampers are properly sealed. Turn off fans, air conditioning, and forced-air heating. Though they seem minor, these steps will help limit the amount of debris and aerosolized contaminants that enter the home, thereby protecting your furry friends’ delicate respiratory system.
- Consider a Generator – A quality generator is a major investment, but if electricity is lost, generators can help keep your home warm and well-lit until power is restored.
- Stock Up! – All well-equipped small mammal emergency kits should include a minimum 5 – 7-day supply of fresh hay, food, and bottled water for your little ones. If you live in an area that is especially susceptible to extreme weather patterns, it may be best to keep even more on hand as it can sometimes be difficult, if not impossible, to leave your home and buy more.
- Be Ready to Improvise – Unfortunately, local authorities may not have an immediately clear picture of what is happening, or how long it will last. As a result, it is often recommended to keep plastic sheeting, duct tape, and a hammer and nails handy to help patch up broken windows or to keep any drafts to a minimum. Space heaters, extra animal bedding and litter, garbage bags, and several gallons of drinkable water also tend to come in handy.