DISASTER PREPAREDNESS FOR OUR PETS
By Julia N. Allen, Ph.D., DVM
This week we welcome foster mom Julia Allen as our guest blogger. Julia has some important (and timely) information for all of us. Thanks, Julia.
With disasters headlining in the national news, makes this a good time to think about Disaster Preparedness for our pets.
In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, you and your pets may be forced to evacuate your home. If you and your family need to stay in a public shelter, your pets may not be permitted with you. Planning ahead for their care will help keep you mind at ease, and ensure their safety and comfort.
Even if you do not need to evacuate your home, many disasters isolate homes, neighborhoods, or communities. Again, planning ahead and having adequate supplies on hand will protect your family and your pets.
Disasters can strike quickly and without warning. Some end quickly, but others may require a long-term recovery process. This may give rise to special needs for housing and care for your pets.
First prepare for yourself and your family by creating a family disaster plan. Knowing what to do is your best protection and your responsibility. Remember you cannot care for your pets if you are injured or unable to care for yourself.
Everyone should have at least 30 days (NOT JUST 3 DAYS) worth of food, treats, medications, water, etc. for their pets (and themselves.)
Every dog should have a suitable crate (can be kept collapsed so as not to take up too much storage space) in case one has to stay in a hotel or in a public space of some kind. Take the time to familiarize your dog with the crate so that going in, and staying in, does not become a battle. Be sure you have absorbent bedding (eg towels) for each crate, and a tarp or plastic of some kind (eg a large garbage bag cut open) to cover it should that be necessary. Remember you may not have heat, so making the crate warm and cozy with bedding and an outside covering will increase the comfort for your dog.
FOOD & FOOD BOWL
At least 2 bags of food (ie a 60-day supply) should always be in your house for each pet. When one bag goes empty, you start the next bag and immediately go buy a replacement.
WATER & WATER BOWL
For water, consider stocking water purification tablets (for yourself and the dogs) along with your bottled water. These are easier to store and have longer dating than cases of bottled water. You can also use them to purify bottled water that has expired. There are lots of types on the market, and the fine print is important. Look for ones that are EPA approved, and that kill everything: bacteria, viruses, giardia, AND cryptosporidium. A good brand I have found is Micropur Tablets made by Katadyn, which is available on Amazon.com as well as other on-line stores.
Also consider purchasing a water filtration system (also sold on-line and in camping and backpacking stores.) They come in essentially 3 types – a hand pump, Ultraviolet Light, or a gravity-flow system. Many are very reasonably priced, or you can buy the Cadillac version that can filter water as contaminated as cow-pasture puddles.
With the tablets and/or a filtration system, you can drink water from local streams, ponds, etc. NOTE: These water filters and tablets do not remove chemical, petroleum, etc. contamination – only bacteria, viruses, and protozoan parasites.
Think of them like toilet paper – get more well before you get to the end of the roll. Talk to your vet (and your doctor) about maintaining a 30-day supply, and what to do if you do run out (eg what to use if you run out of dry-eye drops – will OTC lubricating eye drops get you through in a crisis.)
Think of all the things you use to keep all parts of your pets clean:
- Pooper-scooper bags, pee pads
- Tissues, moist wipes, cotton balls, paper towels
- Cloth towels
- “Wet Wipes” for when you cannot wash stuff off your hands
- A bucket or bag to collect all the waste and trash (Neat and tidy = better sanitation overall)
VACCINATIONS & ID
Many pets will get loose and become lost during a disaster. Be sure your dog always wears a properly fitted collar or harness, and keep the rabies tag on your dog’s collar along with the Old Dog Haven tag and the tag with your address and phone. All pets should be microchipped without exception, and that microchip should be registered to the owner (not the Shelter or Vet Hospital.) Be sure YOU have the microchip number written down. Make a copy of your Rabies Vaccination Certificate, and keep it in a plastic sleeve with your crate.
If your dog escapes and becomes lost, you will want to post a photo at your local Community Disaster Center, and also on-line. Therefore keep pictures of your pets on your phone, and print several copies off your computer for each dog (black and white is fine.) Write their name, microchip number, your name/address/number, and ODH’s number on each photo, and then put them individually in a plastic sleeve with your crate. Because our dogs may change more frequently, you might consider 3×5 cards that can be reused with your and ODH’s info, and then write the dog’s name and microchip number directly on their photos.
CLOTHES AND BLANKETS AND BEDS
Remember things may get wet and you may not be able to dry them like you usually do. You may not have heat of any kind. Wet harnesses and nylon collars that remain on your dog for a period of time could cause a skin infection. Dry dog-coats and bedding are essential to keeping your dog warm. Those industrial strength X-large “contractor cleanup bags” can be repurposed for a myriad of uses – buy a big box.
AWAY FROM HOME
Consider what you would do if you are away from home when disaster strikes, and what will happen if you cannot get home in a timely fashion. Do you have a neighbor with a key to your house that loves dogs and could go over and care for your pets until you are able to get home.
Also what to do if you are driving somewhere with your pets in the car and you become stranded. The emergency kit in your car should include at least some food and water and for all of you, towels, and few of those heavy duty black plastic bags.
AT THE TIME OF THE DISASTER
For an earthquake: drop, cover, and hold is still step one. Then at your first opportunity put your dog in the crate. With a disaster threatening your home and family, your pet will sense the stress and may run away in panic or hide. The crate will provide them with containment in a safe place while you assess the situation. By securing your dog promptly, you can concentrate on caring for yourself, your family, AND your dog.
Listen to the Emergency Broadcast System for information and instructions. Take note of any specific instructions for companion animals.
If you leave your home with your dog, make sure you have all the supplies you have prepared. Once at your destination, remember your normally loving dog will be very frightened. This fear may cause him to run away or become aggressive even towards you. Keep your dog in the crate with the door closed, and reassure him. Remove him from the crate only when he is calm, and on a leash in a closed space where he cannot escape.
AFTER THE DISASTER
Use caution in allowing any pet outdoors after the disaster has passed. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and your dog could easily be confused even on his own property. Downed power lines, stray animals, broken glass, etc. present real dangers for your dog.
If your dog is lost during the disaster, contact veterinary hospitals, animal control facilities, and any emergency sheltering facilities that may have been set up by rescue groups. You should go to these shelters in person and look for your dog, and search the photos in on-line data bases, rather than rely on phone descriptions.
If you find a pet, contact any phone numbers that may have been set up during the disaster to report lost and found animals. If the pet is injured, contact your veterinarian or any emergency care facility that may have also been set up.
Experience with disasters throughout the country has taught us many valuable lessons. However, pets are still not allowed in Red Cross emergency shelters, and commonly pets are still not prepared for adequately at the local level. Food and water are transported in for people, but not for animals. In large disasters, communities have primarily relied on the national non-profit animal rescue groups like HSUS or the ASPCA, and thankfully they have become well organized and very efficient at providing emergency animal sheltering services especially for stray and unattended animals.
But for our OLD dogs, with their often complex medical issues, abandonment, and previous public shelter experience, these types of disaster shelters are a very poor option. Instead, we need to plan ahead to protect our family and care for these dogs with a disaster plan that will sustain all family members for a minimum of 30 days.
The dogs are depending on us to be well prepared.