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

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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.

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Is your pet emergency kit up to date?

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Every year, once I’ve gotten through the Dreaded Tax Season, I like to take stock of my pet emergency kit. It’s a good time of year to do it, before the spring and summer storms start in earnest.

What is an emergency kit? It’s an easy-to-carry, always-stocked bag containing everything you might need if you have to seek shelter with the pets; it also does double duty as a vacation/travel kit. Inside our bag I like to keep the following basic items:

  • Food, water, and medicine (three days’ worth for each pet)
  • First aid kit (including rolls of gauze and/or some kind of self-adhering bandages)
  • An extra collar and leash for each pet
  • Collapsible travel bowls
  • A bunch of poop bags
  • A couple of trash bags
  • Muzzles (in case you have to shelter with other people/pets)
  • Clorox wipes
  • Duct tape
  • Paper towels
  • A half dozen puppy pads (good for absorbing accidental messes or lining crates)
  • A couple of these fancy space blankets
  • A zip lock bag containing pictures, descriptions, contact info, designated caregiver info, and up-to-date health certificates for each pet. Technically, you should have current health certificates any time you cross state lines with your pets, and in an emergency situation you don’t want to risk having your pets turned away for lack of documentation.

You should rotate the food and medicine out of the kit periodically, to make sure it doesn’t go stale or expire. If you have special travel crates for each pet, keep the emergency kit with the crate; having everything in one place will save valuable time if you need to evacuate in a hurry.

Everyone’s pet emergency kit is going to be different, and some of the supplies (like water) will overlap with your people emergency kit. The ASPCA has a good checklist for species-specific disaster preparedness kits.

Updating and replenishing the emergency kit is a good reminder to check on the other logistics of your dog’s life as well. Is the microchip information accurate? Are the buckles on the collars and the clips on the leashes still sound? Are the tags still legible? Do I need to renew dog park or city licenses? Is it time to schedule a wellness visit/get more medication/sign up for training classes?

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If you own or run a pet care business, check out the Pet Care Facility Emergency Preparedness course from IBPSA!