Having recently experienced the stress and trauma of being evacuated during a fire – with 5 dogs in tow – now seems like a good time to discuss the importance of having a pet evacuation plan. Some of the tips sound like plain common sense, but you’d be surprised at how seldom common sense comes into something like this, especially when you think you’re safe from most disasters.
One of the most important tips is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. For example, if you need to evacuate your home, do you know where you should go? Sometimes people recommend meeting at a community center, but what if that’s also under threat, or if you arrive and it’s just you and the crickets?
You also need to know if the meeting point is pet-friendly. For example, if the community center is going to provide emergency overnight accommodation, can your pets stay with you? These days, many emergency centers will allow pets, but does the rule still apply if you have multiple pets (5 dogs, for example)? The shelter might allow 2 pets per family, or 2 dogs and one cat, or have other (semi) reasonable limits. If you have a houseful of pets, including hamsters, birds, dogs and cats, you should try to find somewhere else to stay. This is also considerate to the other people in the shelter.
Prepare a pet evacuation plan before an emergency
Find suitable emergency accommodation
According to Ready.gov, you can call your local emergency management office to see if the accommodation options are pet-friendly. You can also contact animal shelters, veterinarians, and local hotels and motels to find out about emergency pet boarding. If you have friends who live outside your immediate area (i.e., not in the line of danger), ask them if you can bring your horde for a night or two. Don’t be offended if they say no, especially if they have small children and pets of their own.
These websites can help your search:
Bear in mind that most boarding facilities require up to date vaccinations and want to see medical records as proof. So make sure you have copies of all your pets’ up-to-date medical records either in your ‘go-bag’ or in your car.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this step. The last thing you want, the very last thing, is to find yourself in your car with your suitcase, go-bag’, (5) pets, and food and water, and have nowhere to go. It is scary and stressful and places unfair obligations on friends who perhaps don’t have the right set-up to take all of you in.
Get sticky with it
According to the ASPCA, one of the easiest things to do is to ‘advertise’ your pets with a Rescue Alert Sticker, which basically tells emergency workers (fire-fighters, for example) that you have (5) pets in the house and that they are all dogs (or 2 birds, 1 cat and 2 dogs, for example). It also includes contact details for your veterinarian. The sticker is important if you aren’t at home when the emergency occurs, so rescue workers know to look out for your furkids and who to contact when they’re safe.
If you have evacuated with your pets, you should write “Evacuated!” across the sticker, so rescue workers don’t waste valuable time looking for pets that aren’t there.
The ASPCA has free stickers available, which you can order online. Place them somewhere easily visible in an emergency, like on your front windows.
Find ‘foster’ parents
Foster parents are people you know and trust who are willing and able to look after your pets if you can’t. They’ll take care of your pets if you’re injured in the fire, for instance, or are away on a business trip when the disaster occurs.
Foster parents should know your pets well, and understand their special needs, if they have any. Your pets should like their foster parents and should, ideally, be familiar with their home. You’ll need to give them keys to your home, as well as copies of your pets’ medical records, and perhaps some of your pets’ food.
Foster parents can also come in handy if you need to carry out repairs at home and you can’t have your pets underfoot.
Practice, practice and practice your pet evacuation plan
It’s a good idea to practice different escape routes from your home. After all, a fire could break out in any room. You should also practice herding pets and getting them outside, especially if you live in a home with different levels. You should also practice the “scoop ‘n run” in case one or more of your pets is in immediate danger. This will make it easier in an emergency, and you’re less likely to get your eyes gouged out by a surprised cat or a put out Yorkie.
At the onset of an emergency
Bring your pets inside as soon as you are aware that an emergency is imminent. For example, you can see smoke headed your way, or the radio broadcasts a flood warning. Some pets won’t want to come inside, but don’t take no for answer. They’re safer inside and you know where they are if you need to pile into your car.
It’s a good idea to keep dogs and cats separate, no matter how well they get on normally. This is not a normal situation and fear and panic can bring about behavior you wouldn’t have imagined.
You can provide a safe ‘fort’ for them that is cozy or let them find their own safe places. Play some soothing music (if you still have power) and give them pet calming remedies.
When the order is given to evacuate Take.Your.Pets.With.You! Seriously. If you don’t, they could either be severely injured or they could run away and you may never see them again. Death (usually painful) is, of course, very likely.
Pack your pets’ go-bag and your go-bag, which should contain all your important documents (passport, identification, marriage certificate, etc.), and your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Try to stay calm for your pets’ sake and drive safely to the destination in your evacuation plan. Once you arrive you can phone friends and family to let them know where you are.
When you get back home
Your pets need some extra patience and love and care when you get back home after an evacuation. Remember, they’ve also suffered a trauma, they’ve been pushed about and unsettled and routine has flown out the window. They are likely to be on edge and more short tempered than usual.
And that’s before they have to cope with any after effects, like increased wildlife that have lost their resources, strange smells, disrupted home life, repairs, and strange people on the property. If you imagine your pets’ emotional balance as a bucket of water that is normally half full, each of the steps leading up to evacuation and the evacuation itself adds a cup of water to the bucket. It may be filled it to the very brim or overflowing.
Now, each element that is different at home also adds a cup of water. It won’t take much for it overflow and the fallout could be increased reactivity to people and/or other animals (including cohabiting pets), depression, shut down, and the appearance of separation anxiety. Be patient with your pets during this time. Supervise all interaction, walk them in areas where they feel safest and keep them on lead for the first few days so that they don’t get spooked and run away.
Important resources to survive an emergency with your pets
The ASPCA has a free mobile app that helps get pet parents through any natural disaster. You can get information on what to do at any stage of the disaster, you can store veterinary records, and you receive a personalized missing pet recovery kit.
ASPCA’s website also provides information what to do with other pets and animals during an emergency, including horses, birds, reptiles, and small mammals.
PetMD has resources for different types of emergencies, including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fires.