MAKING PLANS FOR FIDO
By Edie Alderette-Sellers
Being prepared before an emergency can mean the difference between survival and fighting for survival.
This is especially true for pets. They rely upon us for love, sustenance, and protection. If we aren’t prepared to give them all three during a disaster, they suffer mightily.
During the most recent PRCERT meeting, disaster animal-care expert Carmen Estrada of Concord CERT offered a number of important considerations to think about in preparing your beloved pets for “the big one.”
First and foremost, Estrada implored us to not leave your pets behind. All one needs do is look at the Katrina aftermath and what happened to tens of thousands of lost dogs, cats, and other once-beloved pets to know that leaving your animals behind is something you want to avoid. So making a plan for how and what pets you will be evacuating is key to making sure your pets don’t become a statistic.
Estrada pointed out three main areas to think about, train for, and prepare for in advance:
- Your pets’ emergency plan;
- Your pets’ emergency kit;
- Your pets’ emergency documentation.
Where You Gonna Go When the Volcano Blows?
Jimmy Buffet may have been tongue-in-cheek with his lyrics, but when it comes to emergency preparedness, it’s not a rhetorical question.
Everybody, whether with pets or not, should have a plan of who’s going and where you’ll be going if there is an evacuation or other need to get out and stay out.
The most difficult decision, and possibly your most important to make ahead of time, is figuring out REALISTICALLY, who will be going with you.
Dogs are generally easy to find at all times, but do you have cats? If there’s an explosion, flood, or earthquake, how sure are you that you’ll be able to find your kitty and get out quickly? Cats are notorious hiders, and if you’re spending a half hour of your precious evacuation time looking under beds and couches, you may be putting your own or your family’s life in danger.
Be brutally realistic about who you think you’ll be able to lay hands on in 10 minutes or less and get into a carrier. No, you don’t want to leave pets behind, but if you must in order to preserve your own life, decide that now and make sure everyone in the family is aware that “Fido is going, but Mittens will go if we can find her quickly and if not, we’ll have to leave her and come back later.”
Your next job is to pick a location that’s out of the area but not so far out that you won’t be able to get there in a reasonable time.
Maybe it’s a family member’s house, or maybe it’s a hotel you know will be out of the immediate area. No matter, your pet emergency plan should begin with making sure that your pets are welcome there and under what conditions. If you’re going to Aunt Ruby’s house in the valley, make sure Aunt Ruby knows you’ll be bringing your dogs and/or cats and that she’s okay with it.
If you’re figuring you’ll get out of town and try to find a hotel, know which hotels are pet-friendly before you hit the road and what their pet rules are.
An Even Smaller Version of Your Stuff
George Carlin’s “Stuff” routine had it about right. Your house is a place to keep your stuff.
But when it comes to your pets, their stuff is just as important as your stuff in an emergency. Sure, we have an idea of what to bring: Food, water, medications. But the reality of an evacuation is that they’ll need more than just food and water.
Estrada pointed out that dogs need their own supply of water that doesn’t impinge on yours. And the food they need should be the same food they eat at home. Changing food on a pet is never easy on digestion, but add in the stress of evacuation and you may have a very smelly potential health hazard on your hands.
In addition to food, water, and meds, other items you should think about having in your pet kit include:
- Compact or collapsable bowls for food and water;
- Booties for walking through debris and glass;
- At least one muzzle per dog;
- A pet first-aid kit with “vet wrap” and cotton gauze roll;
- Poop bags;
- Blue painters tape or duct tape.
A few things to note, though.
Bowls: Make sure your dog or cat is used to the bowls you intend to bring. Some dogs and cats refuse to use bowls unfamiliar with them, so get them used to drinking or eating from them BEFORE you need to use them.
Medications: Work with your vet to get at least three-days’ worth of your pet’s medicines separate from your own supply and put those in your emergency pack. Don’t assume you will have time to grab the pills from your kitchen or wherever you keep them.
Carriers: Work with your pets NOW to get them to become comfortable with carriers. Yes, you will need them, if only so you can put your pet in the kennel and then focus on other tasks as you prepare to evacuate. A pet on a leash is a single nylon or leather strip away from being a lost pet. Wire kennels are best, but some manufacturers offer soft-sided collapsable carriers you can keep on hand and ready to go. For cats, make sure there’s one cat to a kennel because you’ll need room for a litter box and bowls.
Muzzle: You know your dog doesn’t bite. However, no matter what your dog is normally like, any dog — ANY DOG — can bite when its under stress, and there’s no more stressful time than an unplanned evacuation. Have a couple muzzles on hand just in case; when you’re evacuating and relying on friends and strangers to help, you don’t want to end up dealing with a dog bite as well. This is another opportunity to practice with your dog — make using a muzzle fun. We call ours the “cookie mask” and make sure that all practice with the muzzle includes a cookie. You’d be surprised how, if there’s a liver snap involved, dogs have way fewer issues with a muzzle than you do.
Click here for Estrada’s instructions for how to make an emergency kit for dogs.
Click here for Estrada’s instructions for how to make an emergency kit for cats.
Click here for Estrada’s handout on emergency kits for birds.
Your final step is preparing documentation for your pets. And it starts with photos.
Take a picture will all your pets, even those you might not evacuate with. If you have a hard-copy photo, it will be easier for emergency personnel to identify your pet if it gets lost and reunite you. And by “with your pets” I mean take a picture of your pet and you, together. That way shelter workers know that Mittens is really yours. Print out copies of these photos and don’t rely on your phone’s photo album. You may not have access to phone's drive if there’s no electricity to keep your charge up. Keep these copies in your emergency “go” bag.
Next, get all your animals’ vaccination dates on a paper and keep this with your evacuation gear. The best way to do this is to go to your vet, get a copy of your pets’ records for the last year or so and a vaccination certificate. Then create a single-sheet individual pet record for each animal. Make a few copies of the individual pet records and keep all these documents with your kit.
Why make an individual pet record if you already have the veterinarian’s full records?
The individual pet record is important if you evacuate to an emergency shelter. Red Cross does not allow animals in its shelters, so you may have to take your animal to an emergency pet shelter before you are sent to your own temporary housing. Providing this one-sheet of your pets’ information, diet, health history, chip ID number, and vaccination dates speeds up the process of dropping off and gets you on your way to your own shelter. Without vaccination dates, your animals will probably be accepted into a shelter, but they will be placed in isolation from other animals and then, when a vet becomes available, they will be vaccinated. Your pet will be stressed enough; dumping a bunch of unnecessary vaccinations on top of it is just a preventable insult added to injury of evacuation and separation from you.
The full pet record and vaccine certificate is necessary to prove the information on your individual pet record is true. Because this record is likely longer and harder to read than the one-page summary, you’ll want both in hand. The copies of the one-page sheet can be left with the shelter, allowing you to keep hold of your original veterniarian’s records and vaccine certificate.
The third document to keep on hand is a “lost pet flier.” No, your pets aren’t lost, but if they do become separated from you, you won’t really have a way to make up a flier if you’ve been evacuated. Having several copies of a pre-made flier for each pet will allow you to go into immediate action if one of your pets goes missing or is left behind. Make one for each pet with a photograph, and make sure to update this document as your pet ages. Then include the original and a number of copies in your “go” bag.
The fourth document you should prepare BEFORE the big one happens is to file a treatment authorization form with your veterinarian and make copies for yourself. This document will allow a trusted neighbor or other person you rely on to get veterinary treatment for your animals if you are not available. Trust me, no veterinarian will touch your pet if it's brought in for treatment by someone who says he or she "isn't the owner," so having that document, keeping a copy for yourself, and giving a copy to your "trusted" caregiver will make your and your pet's life a lot easier.
The final, and possibly most important, documentation preparation every pet owner should do — no matter what — is get your pets chipped and keep a record of your pets’ chip provider and their ID numbers. This is the single biggest way to keep your pet safe because no matter what, all disasters eventually end, and all lost pets will get chip scanned. If your name is attached to your animal’s chip, or you can provide a chip number to a shelter, your found pet can be reunited with you.
Yes, that’s a lot of paper to lug around. And yet, Estrada had one more important tip: Make a “survival Flash drive.” This drive is small, easily portable, and can contain not only all the documentation on your pet but also your family records, your house documents, medical records, contracts, or anything else you might need in an emergency or wouldn’t want to lose. Password encrypt it to protect that information and have it ready to grab as you evacuate.
If you'd like to watch Carmen Estrada's entire presentation, it's available on the PRCERT Facebook page or view it here.