One of many tragedies of Hurricane Katrina was its toll on pets--people's four-legged friends left behind to drown in flood zones or abandoned in hasty evacuations that couldn't accommodate them. Since then, however, a lot of evacuation and other disaster plans have been revised to account for people's beloved furry familiars.
FEMA's Ready Campaign offers numerous resources to assist in developing a disaster plan for animals, including a brochure on pet preparedness, a pet preparedness instructional video and a community pet preparedness toolkit.
Before the hurricane or wildfire happens, emergency providers can work to identify pet-friendly shelters in their communities and provide local vet and kennel staffs with disaster preparedness information they can share with pet owners. Departments can even partner with local pet stores for events promoting pet disaster kit shopping and identification measures such as collar tags, microchipping and registration with pet-recovery databases.
Other ideas to share with citizens include:
- Develop reciprocal buddy systems with friends, neighbors or relatives who can care for pets if an owner is incapacitated or relocated somewhere that won't take them.
- Keep enough food and water on hand to last three days. This is a good rule for people too. Consider creating two kits: one for sheltering in place, and a smaller, lighter one for evacuations.
- Create a pet first-aid kit with cotton bandages, antibiotic ointment, latex gloves, isopropyl alcohol and saline solution, and other needed items. Consult with a vet about what to include, and consider including an animal first-aid reference book.
- Keep extra pet medications and medical records in watertight containers with their disaster kits. Consider backup leashes and collars. Crates or carriers will facilitate movement.
- Don't forget sanitation needs. Bleach can work as a disinfectant (nine parts water to one part bleach) or to purify water in an emergency (16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water). Avoid scented and color-safe bleaches, and those with added cleaners.
- Pictures of owners and pets together can help document ownership and assist identification. Include detailed information about species, breed, age, sex, color and distinguishing characteristics.
- Include familiar items-- favorite toys, bedding, etc.--in disaster kits. They help reduce pet stress.
- Have contact information for emergency animal treatment (Humane Society, emergency vets, etc.) Place "Pets Inside" stickers on doors or windows, including information on numbers and types.
Basic disaster preparedness can benefit pets as well as families. Citizens should be aware of potential threats in their areas and have well-developed plans to assemble and move if circumstances require. For more on disaster preparedness, see www.ready.gov.