BY REBEKAH OLSEN
Imagine you’re cooking spaghetti. You leave the pasta box on your stove and it catches fire, sending your kitchen up in flames (yeah, I’ve done this).
You know the drill. Call 911. Stop, drop and roll. Escape.
But your dog doesn’t follow. He’s afraid of the screeching fire alarm and the rising smoke. He hides under the bed and refuses to budge. What do you do?
What about a flood? Or a tornado? How would you protect your pet then? Our pets rely on us for guidance and protection, so it’s important to know what to do in the event of a disaster.
This past week, I watched my grandmother’s condominium burn down. Twelve condos, one restaurant and a lifetime of memories turned to white ash. Fortunately, all humans and pets were safe.
But not every case is so lucky. Unofficial reports of the U.S. Fire Administration state that between 40,000 to 150,000 pets die in fires each year--many to smoke inhalation.
Between Tennessee's recent floods, storms and fires (not to mention the horrific Nashville flood that happened in 2010) I decided it was time to create my own disaster plan for my dog, Midas. And I'm going to share some of the helpful tips I rounded up so you can create one, too!
1. ID your pet
Disasters are sudden and unexpected. Your cat or dog should wear a collar and identification tag at all times. If your pet is lost, the average person can’t read a microchip, but they can read an ID tag! Include your pet’s name, your phone number and your home address on a personalized tag. Etsy sells several cute and custom options here (including the one pictured below). But be sure the text is clear and easy-to-read.
That said, the microchip serves as backup incase your pet's collar or tag comes off. If you haven’t done so already, microchip your pets. Microchips can’t be lost and will increase the chances of you being reunited with your pet if they escape. You can microchip your pet for around $20-$50 at most vet clinics, and some shelters or spay clinics offer discounted prices.
Tag from BlueEyedJewelsTX on Etsy.
2. Order a free rescue alert sticker
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) provides a free pet safety pack for pet guardians here. It includes a window decal that alerts rescue workers there are pets inside your home. Place it on your front door or on a window near your front door.
Extra tip: Keep your pet’s leashes, travel kennels and treats visible and near the front door so rescue workers can grab them and lead your pets to safety. If you’re able to evacuate your pets on your own, write EVACUATE across the sticker (if there is time!) so rescue crews know animals aren’t inside.
3. Arrange a safe haven
If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pet. Never leave your pets behind! Choose a safe haven, whether a pet-friendly hotel (check out Bring Fido for hotel options), a family member’s house or emergency shelter that accepts pets.
If you’re evacuating your home and can’t bring your pet with you, board your pet at a veterinarian or kennel outside your immediate location until it’s safe to return home.
But plan ahead which facility you’ll use, as you may need to schedule a behavioral test and have your pet’s medical records on file. For example, I use Camp Bow Wow in Memphis and arranged for the Camp Bow Wow in Nashville to accept Midas if we need to get away from our area--although Middle Tennessee has many others we love, too--listed here.
4. Assign responsibility to family members
Unexpected disasters can cause frenzy, and if you have a multi-pet household you may accidentally forget a furry friend behind. To make sure each pet makes it to safety, assign a family member responsibility for one pet. Give this careful thought. You’ll want to assign a pet to the family member they bond with the most. When stress levels are high, your pet may need some coaxing and a strong, trusting relationship will make this easier.
5. Create a pet emergency kit
When you’re creating an emergency kit for your family, don’t forget your pets. Here are a few items the ASPCA recommends you include:
One week supply of food and water. Store the food in airtight containers or buy canned food to keep it fresh—rotate every two months.
Travel food and water bowls, like this one here.
Pet first-aid kit and guide book (ask your vet what to include)
Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are great)
Disposable garbage bags for cleanup
Extra collar and leash
A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
Recent photos of your pets (in case you’re separated and need to make “Lost” posters)
For cats: pillowcase, toys, scoop-able litter
For dogs: extra leash, toys and chew toys, bed or blanket for crate
6. Know your pet
Where is your cat’s favorite hiding spot? Where does your dog run to when thunder roars?
Know the nooks and crannies your pet might sneak into if there’s a disaster. This will make it quicker for you to locate them when it’s time to find shelter or escape.
If you know ahead of time a disaster is coming, block off those spots to prevent your pet from hiding.
7. Train your pet
During a crisis, your dog will experience new sounds, new smells and new feelings. He’ll need structure and consistency to handle an emergency. Obedience training will give your pet that confidence. He might not understand what’s going on in the world around him, but he’ll understand “stay, sit and come”.
Train your pet to respond to these commands in all situations and environments so when it’s imperative he listens, he will.
Here are two of our archived articles to get you started:
8. Practice your plan
Having a plan is great, but what if it doesn’t work? You forgot your cat doesn’t like kennels and won’t go in. Or your dog has never been squished in the closet with you before.
Help your pets feel comfortable with your disaster plan. Practice it with her and create a positive association by throwing tasty treats into the mix. If a part of your plan doesn’t jive well with your pets, change it up and find something that’s equally effective and comfortable for everyone.
You can’t predict an emergency, but you can prepare for it. These are just a few tips to get you started on your own pet disaster plan.
What are your tips for preparing for an emergency? Share in the comments below!