Get ready, stay ready: caring for pets during a crisis

pet fire

by Betsy Lane, MA

Roughly 215 years ago, English romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote, “The world is too much with us.” Although the context is different, 2017 has been a year of earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, and other disasters, and it’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed and wonder what we would do if a disaster struck our town, our block, our family, or our pets.

I grew up in California, where wildfires were a frequent threat. In October 2017, the Tubbs Fire in Northern California broke the record for the most destructive wildfire in California’s history—and it was just one of 21 active fires in that state at the time. Wildfires pose challenges to preparedness, because they move quickly and unpredictably, depending on wind speed and direction, humidity, terrain, available fuel, and other factors we don’t normally think too much about. Hurricanes can be tracked, and it’s likely that you’ll get at least a dozen hours advance warning (which, of course, never seems like enough time when you’re in the middle of it). With wildfires, a simple shift in wind direction can leave you with mere minutes to escape with the clothes on your back and, hopefully, your pets in your car.

We’ve already covered things that business owners can do to prepare for natural disasters like hurricanes. In this post, I’m going to narrow the focus a bit to what you as individuals can do to prepare for rapid-onset emergencies such as the California wildfires (jointly referred to as the “October Fire Siege” of 2017) that destroyed an estimated 7,700 homes and businesses and resulted in 100,000 Californians being evacuated from their homes.

The primary piece of equipment is the Go Bag. This will contain your pets’ essentials, including a first-aid kit.  Also include your pets’ medications, leashes, bowl, food, poop bags, baby wipes/hand sanitizer, proof of ownership, and current photos (if you get separated, you’ll use these to post or share). You can make a pet first-aid kit yourself, or augment a purchased kit. It’s not hard; it’s actually kind of fun. You just have to do it. Helpful lists for dogs, cats, and other companion animals can be found at the link above or on the PetMD, HSUS, and ASPCA websites. 

CalFire is a great resource for all kinds of information about how to prepare, safeguard, evacuate, and return to your home after a wildfire. Their website has videos and information designed to keep you safe, and most of their advice applies to other emergency situations, as well.

Ideally, you should have a Go Bag by near each exterior door of your dwelling, plus one in the garage and one in your vehicle. Do not, under any circumstances, stash your Go Bag in an out-of-the-way, hard-to-reach spot. Your lives might depend on your ability to evacuate immediately — do not pass go, do not collect a bunch of supplies in the back of the closet under the stairs. Gather your pets, grab the Go Bags, and GET OUT. At the very least, have a Go Bag in your car and one by the door you’re most likely to use to get to the car. As CalFire advises everyone, “Prepare now, and go early.”

Creating a good Go Bag is critical, but taking a couple additional steps now will ensure your pets’ safety should disaster strike.

First, arrange a safe haven. The ASPCA reminds pet guardians, “If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets.” Because you’re likely to be panicked (and possibly without phone service), write down a few options and keep the list in your Go Bag. The list should include boarding facilities, hotels, friends, relatives, stables, etc.—any place you have recently confirmed will board pets in an emergency. While you’re making lists, grab a map and highlight or write down multiple evacuation routes from your home to your safe haven(s).

Second, consider who will care for your pets if you can’t. Your short-term person (for example, if you can’t get home for a few days; this is often a neighbor) might be different from your long-term/permanent person (usually a close friend or relative, for a worst-case scenario). Be sure your short-term and long-term people have each other’s contact information and a way to access your animals if you’re not there.

Finally, when the immediate danger is over, inspect your pets closely for injuries, brush them well, and give them a bath. As soon as possible, all pets should go to a professional groomer for a more thorough bath and complete grooming session to remove any lingering toxins, irritants, and smokiness or other foul odors in the coat. A trip to the vet is also in order, to be sure your pet is A-OK inside and out. If you have been evacuated to an unfamiliar location, you can find a highly qualified groomer at any PetSmart Grooming Salon,  and an AAHA-certified veterinary clinic almost anywhere in the United States.

Plotting out a solid emergency plan will help keep you and your pets safe in case disaster strikes — and that means you’re more likely to be fully present and available to help the animals and people in your life. Perhaps best of all, preparing in these ways now will make all the “what ifs” a whole lot less overwhelming.

Learn more at

Lucky Star


Star 2

By Chris Kreutz

We found Star when we were down in Texas bringing supplies for volunteers and survivors of Hurricane Harvey.

We had just dropped off our first load of supplies at the Cowboy Church in Orange, TX and were heading up to Alvarado to pick up a half dozen dogs (and a rabbit) being transported back with us to P.A.W.S. Tinley Park. These pets had been surrendered by their owners, and were being transported north to make room in Texas shelters for displaced animals waiting to be reunited with their people.

A few hours into our journey, I spotted something in the bushes on the side of the road. We quickly decided to turn around – but it took a bit of maneuvering, since we were hauling a horse trailer. By the time we got back to the spot, a little brown dog was in the middle of the other lane, pawing at some roadkill. We slammed on the brakes, but the car in the other direction was still gunning it hard. Terrified, we began honking our horn as I jumped out with a lead. The speed limit was 75 mph, so if the oncoming car didn’t stop, that little brown dog didn’t have a chance.

Luckily, the car slowed some at the last minute, and as soon as this sweet girl saw me, she scooted across the road, head and bum down, tail wagging furiously. She slammed into my body, so happy to see me as I burst into tears.

Right then and there I committed to making sure this girl has the best life possible.

You can follow Star’s story here. 



Chris KreutzChris Kreutz lives in Chicago with her husband. Although their children are off in college, their home still bustles with an assortment of animals. She is a freelance animal handler for advertising and media, a program leader for Canine Therapy Corps, and teaches private lessons with AnimalSense Canine Training and Behavior. Chris is very involved in animal rescue, and donates her time transporting domestic and farm animals to new homes and sanctuaries around the country.

Disaster preparedness for pet professionals

23458617 - a dog is wet and sad in front of a puddle in the rain

The summer of 2017 has been relentless with its storms. Unprecedented rain has been dumped on Texas and a category 5 hurricane is heading for Florida, after having laid waste to islands throughout the Caribbean.

Whether or not you live in or around a storm’s path, you should have an emergency action plan created, practiced, and ironed out.

This article will provide information to those pet care providers who may be affected, as well as measures for preparation that any pet care company should take to make certain you, your staff, and your client’s animals are safe.

Emergency action plan

An emergency action plan is an essential set of documents, policies, procedures, and delegations that need to be laid out immediately (ideally, before you open your doors or book your first client). This goes for boarding facilities, grooming salons, pet sitters, or any person with animals in their charge.

We can’t emphasize this enough: everyone needs an emergency plan. Tornados, hurricanes, flash floods, fires, fallen trees, and even acts of terrorism are real issues with a serious set of consequences.  Below are some guidelines to help you and your company be prepared for whatever natural or unnatural disasters come along.

Insurance coverage

Check your insurance coverage; many policies do not cover floods or “acts of God”. Go through this thoroughly so in the event a disaster does strike, you only have to deal with the preparation and not the rebuild.

Does it cover lost wages? You and your staff won’t be able to work if the roads are impassable or your clients have canceled.

Does your insurance cover losses not only to the building or property, but also the cost to transport and find alternative housing for any pets in your care? Are you still liable for paying rent to a landlord whether or not the building is habitable?

Have your insurance agent review your lease, preferably before you sign it, so that you can decide on additional coverage to take care of things your landlord won’t. Your insurance agent should also be able to direct you to the type of coverage or riders you will need for your geographic area and common natural disasters – fires, floods, earthquakes, etc.

Staff roles

Start with staff obligations. Assign your staff to very specific roles and timelines to be followed during a natural disaster.

Who will be in charge of contacting clients about the current plan, whether it’s shelter in place or evacuate?

Who will be watching the news for updates from local authorities dictating evacuation orders?

If you have a building or client homes in your care, who is responsible for making sure the structures are safe? Appoint someone to check that trees have not fallen on the building, electrical wires are not hanging, flooding is not occurring in the basement, etc. Be very clear in your service agreements about the extent of your responsibility for real estate or home goods. No one should be risking their lives to save family heirlooms or laptops.

Assign someone to create and maintain a disaster supply list. Either you or a member of your staff should be assigned the task of checking on quantities, expiration dates, and battery levels. This is a great quarterly assignment. Creating this list will also assist those of you not in the path of a natural disaster to know exactly what you can help provide to those who are.

Have client medical records and contacts stored securely on a cloud server, and provide access to a trusted person outside of your business area. In the event that the internet and power goes out, you will want a point person who knows what to do and who to contact.

Assign someone whose sole responsibility is the physical evacuation of staff and animals. They should know where to go if a flood, fire, or evacuation is ordered, and should plan for the greatest number of animals your company would ever have in your care.


Transportation is key. If you have five pets that you are pet sitting or a hundred dogs in your daycare, what plans do you have to transport them to safety?

Speak with car rental companies about cargo vans. Crates can be ratcheted down to the frame of the van for safer transportation. Beware of box trucks, as they do not have adequate airflow or temperature control – these will be great concerns.

Whatever vehicles you have access to, make certain they always have gas and are in working condition. If you know that a hurricane is heading in your direction, don’t wait until the last minute to rent a vehicle; even if you have to pay for an extra week to let a van sit in your parking lot, it’s a small price to pay if you have to get out in a hurry. This also gives you luxury of adequate preparation time, so that if you do need to evacuate all you’ll need to do is put the pets into the van and head out.

Once the animals are securely ready for transport, who’s driving and where are they going? Is there another boarding facility nearby that has a large training space you can use during an emergency? Is there a warehouse that someone you know owns that would allow you to shelter animals? If so, consider getting contracts signed and adding these locations to your insurance policy.

Shelter in place

The storm may not be a category 5 and your facility or client home may in fact be on high ground. Make a shelter in place plan that will have you prepped for power outages and multiple days and nights stuck on the premises; make certain food, water, cleaning supplies, etc. are all stocked and accounted for.

During winter storms, pipes can freeze, the power can go out, and the heating can stop. Always have plenty of blankets and insulating materials to keep you and the pets warm.

If the power goes out during a summer storm, that means the air conditioning goes out with it.  Make a plan to keep the animals cool and covered from the elements.

Supply list

Here is a recommended (but certainly not exhaustive) list of items to always have on hand. Store them in waterproof plastic bins, clearly labeled and easily accessible.

For items that need batteries (radios, fans, flashlights etc.), store the batteries in plastic bags taped to the device so they don’t corrode and render the item useless.

Generators and associated fuel should be stored outside of any areas where humans and animals will be. When generators are running, make certain the exhaust is pointed away from breathing beings. Carbon dioxide poisoning can be deadly.

Cleaning agents like bleach should be stored in watertight plastic bins, especially if flooding is a concern. You do not want chemicals leaching into the water that you and the animals may have to walk through or even drink.

  • Radios
  • Duct tape
  • Folding table
  • Portable 20” box fans
  • Collar bands to place on animals for identification
  • Storage containers
  • Laptop computer and charger
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Trash can
  • Trash bags
  • Slip leads
  • Muzzles in assorted sizes
  • Cable ties
  • Bed sheets
  • Binders with paper and pens for notes/documenting
  • Hand disinfectant
  • Flea spray
  • Paper towels
  • First aid kit (human)
  • First aid kit (animal)
  • Leashes
  • Latex gloves
  • Shop lights
  • Dog/puppy food
  • Cat/kitten food
  • Bleach
  • Dish soap
  • Generators
  • Electrical cords
  • Gas cans
  • Bug spray
  • Shovels
  • Water
  • Food for staff
Put your plan in writing

Email it to your staff, have it in your handbook, put it on your website, store it on a cloud server, laminate it and hang it on the walls of your facilities. You can even pass it out to your clients (after deleting any sensitive information) and suggest that they put on their fridges. Let people both inside and outside of your organization know what you will do and where you will go if disaster strikes.

If you already have a plan, we hope this serves as a good checklist to help you be as prepared as possible. Never forget that people are always there to help, so make certain part of your plan includes organizations, other companies, friends. or family you can rely on ffor help during an emergency.  

Not affected by the disaster?

Pet care professionals who are not in the path of the storm or directly affected by the disaster often have the resources to help you in your time of need. Even though we are all busy and don’t always budget for disasters, it’s a good policy to set aside some of your time and money to help others when they need it.

Always stay connected to, and network with, pet care businesses in your area and beyond. Competition doesn’t matter when human and animal lives are at stake.

Do you have a vehicle that can transport goods and bring pets back? Do you have supplies on the list above that you could send/ship or deliver to those in need?

Do you have a facility with space to foster pets that need to come out of the affected zone, or even just space in your home for one? Our founder Jamie Migdal is fostering a sweet little white dog named Sassy. Jamie met her while volunteering at the Hurricane Harvey animal intake at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. Sassy was fresh off the plane and still homeless, but with good fortune found her way into Jamie’s home.

Disasters are seemingly everywhere, but you should never feel helpless in the face of them. An emergency action plan doesn’t just have to cover you and yours when you are directly affected. Consider stepping into action when your fellow pet care professionals need assistance; we’re in this industry together and together, we can help thousands of people and pets get their lives back together.


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it became common for everyone from pet professionals to pet lovers to emergency response crews to help stranded pets in need. At FetchFind. we want to share our resources with anyone who will be helping animals to be as successful as possible in their efforts. The stranded animals depend on us for their very survival, but they can be fearful, shy, or aggressive (even when they know we’re trying to help). Please read and share this Disaster Relief graphic to help the humans and animals get connected and to safety as soon as possible.

Disaster Relief