After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it was clear that disaster plans had not included pets. Many families put themselves in danger by refusing to evacuate without their beloved furry family members who were not welcome in shelters. And it was estimated that 100,000 pets were separated from their families during and after the hurricane, with perhaps 70,000 of them dying before they could be reunited with their pet parents.
Katrina was not an isolated incident, as pets can easily be lost during any natural disaster, including earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes and floods. No one wants to leave their pet behind, and being forced to do so only causes more anxiety and stress for pet parents. Many will refuse to evacuate without their pets, or could return too early to dangerous conditions at home to try and find them. Taking steps to include your pets in your disaster planning can help you ensure their safety- but what about the rest of your community?
It’s easy to put off planning for something you don’t know is coming, and many families are caught off guard when disaster strikes. But you can help your neighborhood pets stay safe with a few proactive steps that gets your neighbors thinking ahead. Here’s how!
Many emergency shelters don’t allow companion animals, including most run by the American Red Cross. Do some detective work and search for a local shelter that does, and be sure to find out if they have any requirements for pets, such as current vaccines and licensing. If your neighborhood has its own emergency shelter, find out if it is pet-friendly, and if it isn't, talk with local leaders to discuss how to change it to be. Then, be sure to spread the news to your neighbors that there is a safe place to go with their precious pets by word of mouth, and by posting to your community bulletin board.
Few families have an emergency kit for when the worst happens, and even fewer have gathered supplies for their pets. Help them out by preparing a simple checklist of what to include to keep pets safe and able to be quickly relocated. Whether at the local dog park, at community events, or even door to door, pass out the checklists which can include basic supplies, space for veterinarian and pet-friendly housing information, and ID and microchip numbers. You can also include a first aid kit list to help treat any injuries that may happen.
Cozy up to a trusted neighbor with pets, swap keys and discuss helping each other out when the weather turns dangerous. Having a buddy system in place means there is always someone else who is looking out for your pets if you aren’t home, and they can also feel safer knowing they have someone to keep their animals safe in an emergency. Get more neighbors involved, and soon you’ll have a network of pet owners who know where the pets are in each house, and can help out in any situation, which means your animals will have lots of guardian angels to help keep them safe.
Rescue alert stickers are simple and easy ways to tell emergency responders that you have pets inside that need saving. Placed by the main doors and windows, these stickers usually have space to fill in how many pets you have to help responders find them. Often, you can get these stickers from animal organizations like ASPCA and local vets and shelters, but you can also find them online. Grab a ton and give them to all your neighbors with pets. Be sure to let them know to write ‘evacuated’ on the sticker if they were able to safely leave with their pets so that no responder is caught in a dangerous situation looking for them.
Set a date with your pet owning neighbors to practice evacuation drills. During these community events, you can discuss commands that can help pet parents wrangle pets in a confusing situation, such as to follow you, to swim, to leave it or drop it, and to come when called. Working on desensitizing pets to loud noises is also key in keeping their focus on you. If you and your neighbors have come up with an evacuation route, do practice runs with pets getting in their harnesses and carriers, heading to cars, and going to the designated shelter or other safe place.
We all know how important an ID is to get a lost pet back. But collars and ID tags can get torn off or lost. Microchips are the safest and best way to reunite with your lost pets, and only take minutes to implant in cats and dogs. Find a local mobile vet and schedule an event in your neighborhood. Be sure to let all your neighbors know ahead of time. Pull out the grills, throw on some dogs and burgers, and get pet-safe treats ready to treat everyone for their disaster preparedness.
With a little help, your neighbors can begin their own journey to disaster preparedness for their family and pets, ensuring that everyone, human and animal alike, can safely weather anything nature throws at them.