Wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters can strike anywhere, anytime. When trouble strikes, you need a clear action plan to get you and your pets to safety in times of trouble.
Create a list of pet-friendly hotels, motels, and campgrounds along your anticipated and alternate routes to safety—even if you’re planning to stay with family or friends. You can search online at Pets Welcome or Dog Friendly websites. Hotels and motels are not legally required to accept pets—even during natural disasters or a mandatory evacuation, so check websites and then call ahead to be sure your pet can stay. Some may accept pets for an additional fee, and others may have a limited number of rooms available for travelers with pets.
Build a go bag for your pets. Use a backpack, tote, or even small wheeled luggage to stash items you may need. Refer to the checklist and add other items as needed. Keep ID tags current. Microchips are one smart way to ID your pets. My Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat are both microchipped and registered with AKC Reunite. Make sure you complete your registration and keep contact info current.
Take photos today of your pets. Photograph them standing, left and right profiles, and straight-on head shots. Take additional photos showing you with your pets—that’s essential if questions of ownership arise. If you can tag or add metadata to each photo, that’s even better. (To learn how, click here.) Save copies to Dropbox and/or email them to yourself and others. That way, if you lose your phone or computer, you can easily retrieve them.
The not-for-profit American Veterinary Medical Association has a wealth of information to help you develop a plan to care for your pets before and after disasters. Here’s a great video (less than 5 minutes) worth watching:
Build go bags for the rest of the family. Children, older adults, and anyone with physical limitations may have special needs, so take those into consideration when planning your go bags. You can buy family-sized emergency kits or save money and make your own. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has a comprehensive family emergency kit online. Find more resources and info at ready.gov and the American Red Cross (great quiz at that site, too!).
Keep your bags accessible so you can grab and go.
If you must evacuate and have a vehicle, add extra jugs of water, towels, tarps, ropes, and bungees. Duct tape, small hand tools, and plastic bags can be easily stored beneath a seat. Add tarps, ropes, and bungees; these may be some of the most important survival items you’ll need; they take up very little space and can be stored under the seat of your vehicle. If you have to be on foot, roll up the tarp and fasten it to your go bag with those ropes or bungees. Tarps are a lightweight and inexpensive way to provide shade and protection from rain. Pop-up tents are another option if you can afford the higher cost. They usually come in their own tote bag, which is handy.
It seems ironic, but water is often the most difficult resource to acquire in flooded areas. If you have space in your vehicle, add extra jugs of water–essential in all emergencies. If you run out of water you brought from home, the CDC offers a quick “how to” for making water safe for drinking here and here.
Communicate. Let family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers know your plans. Social media can be a great tool to help you stay in contact. Always have a back-up plan, to include alternate routes and destinations. And remember: cell towers and Internet providers may be impacted by disasters, so share info ahead of time and take print copies with you in waterproof bags.
From the American Kennel Club:
Remember that you might not be home when disaster strikes. Plan for being away from your pets and/or being unable to get to them. Consider making arrangements with someone who can get to your dog when you can’t like a neighbor, dog walker, pet sitter, or local doggy daycare. And place a rescue alert sticker at your front door to let people know there are pets inside your house. Be sure it includes the types and number of pets you own as well as your veterinarian’s phone number. If you are able to take your pets with you during an evacuation, please write “Evacuated” across the sticker if time allows so rescue workers don’t waste precious time at your home.
Practice! If you had to leave home without advance notice, how long would it take you to grab your gear and herd people and pets into your vehicle? Tip: keep travel crates, carriers, leashes, and go bags where you can quickly grab them.
When you think you have everything ready, run a drill. (Remember those fire drills from your school days? Same concept.) Practice in the daytime. Practice in the dark. If your pets don’t like their crates or balk at the idea of the vehicle, turn this into a game and reward them for playing along. The more often you practice, the easier it will be when an emergency does occur.
Plan ahead. Practice. Be safe!