Be Prepared: Include Pets in Disaster Planning

May 22, 2017 / Preventive Health / Public Health / Cats / Dogs / Small Mammals

[FEMA workers rescue a dog from a flooded neighborhood]

Emergency responders help all household members

“You may not be able to prevent a disaster from occurring, but you can reduce its impact with a little planning,” advises Dr. Loukia Agapis, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. Your pets should be part of your plan.

[shelter med - louki agapis]

Dr. Loukia Agapis became a responder for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Dr. Agapis, who has a master’s degree in shelter medicine and a graduate certificate in veterinary public health, has a special interest in disaster management. She became a responder for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) while studying at the University of Florida.

She says preparedness starts with an emergency response plan and readily accessible kit containing provisions for the entire family. But there’s more to being prepared: you also need to rehearse for emergencies and periodically review the plan and the kit.

Your disaster planning should include predetermined meeting places, both near your home and outside your neighborhood, in case your family gets separated. Identify a contact person located outside the area where you live who can serve as a call center for your family. Always keep some emergency cash on hand.

“Although money and information are easy to obtain on a normal day, they may not be in times of crisis,” Dr. Agapis warns.

Disaster Planning: Prepare and Practice

Your disaster kit should include information and supplies you may need whether you remain at home or you must evacuate your home. Store your disaster kit where it can easily be retrieved.

Just as your family should practice what to do in case of fire or tornado, you should also accustom your pets to sudden actions that will occur in a disaster situation. Familiarize your animals with their crates and with being transported in your car.

“Remember that cats can be very difficult to catch when they are stressed or afraid,” recommends Dr. Agapis. “Know your animals’ favorite hiding places. When the chaos starts, this is where you will find them!”

In the event of a disaster, Dr. Agapis says owners should also be prepared to leave their pet behind, if instructed to do so by emergency responders.

“Some people are more concerned for their household pets, service animals, and livestock in disasters than they are for themselves,” she says. “This attitude may impair their ability to make sensible decisions about their own safety and that of rescue workers. Remember that emergency responders truly want to help all the members of your household.”

Suggested Pet Items for Your Disaster Kit

  • Food, water, and bowls for each pet (three-day supply for evacuations and a two-week supply for sheltering-in-place at home)
  • Paper towels, plastic bags, and spray disinfected for animal waste cleanup
  • Extra collars and tags, harnesses, and leashes for all pets (including cats)
  • Copies of your pet’s medical and vaccination records (boarding facilities may not accept your pets without these)
  • A two-week supply of medication, along with a copy of the current prescription
  • Recent photographs of you and your pets
  • Crates or traveling carriers large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around; these should be labeled with your pet’s name, your name, and where you can be reached
  • A first aid kit
  • Cat litter or newspaper
  • A manual can opener
  • A muzzle or materials such as gauze for an improvised muzzle
  • Pet comfort items such as blankets and toys
  • A list of hotels and boarding kennels that accept pets
  • Detailed instructions for someone else in case you cannot care for your pets

Disaster Planning: If You Must Leave Pet Behind

If you are forced to leave your pet behind, you should avoid leaving your pet tied up outside or letting them loose to fend for themselves. Provide water in a heavy bowl that cannot be tipped over. Do not leave unfamiliar foods and treats that may tempt your pet to overeat, which can lead to intestinal problems.

Leave clear information for rescue workers about the animals they will encounter in the house and how to contact you. Keep exotic pets in separate rooms, with warnings and handling instructions. Above all, do not leave your pets without proper identification. Even if they have been microchipped, they should still have a collar or other physical identification such as a leg band on birds.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees that service animals may remain with the person served in any public accommodation, including a disaster shelter. However, the ADA does not guarantee any other care for service animals. If you are the owner of a service animal, be prepared to provide food and water for your pet during an emergency.

For more information, Dr. Agapis recommends the American Red Cross and American Veterinary Medical Association websites. FEMA offers free online courses on how to prepare for and respond to a disaster. Ready Illinois and Champaign County Emergency Management Agency are great local resources; their websites offer children’s activities that teach about fire safety.

By Hannah Beers

Featured photo: FEMA Urban Search and Rescue members from Pennsylvania Task Force One evacuate a dog from a neighborhood flooded by Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, N.C., in October 2016. Photo by Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA