Disaster preparedness for pet professionals

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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


How studying dog behavior ruins “cute” dog videos … and why that’s a good thing

By Bill Mayeroff

One of the unanticipated side effects of studying dog behavior is that videos of dogs that at one point I might have thought were cute or funny now just make me cringe.

Take, for example, this commercial for the Toyota RAV4:

In it, this couple imagines going camping with their dog and their new Toyota RAV4. The man imagines a scenario in which he throws an object into a river (that appears to have a VERY strong current) which the dog chases. As the dog swims after the object, he and his female companion jump into their SUV and drive along the bank and meet the dog, with the object in its mouth, as it emerges and shakes itself off. The man then throws the object back into the river and the dog jumps back in after it.

Now, at one point, I might have found that funny (though it’s hard to say, as the commercial was released long after I began studying at FetchFind). But today? Not at all.

In what world is it ok to send your dog into a river with such a strong current, jump into your car and meet it downstream? If that happened in real life, the likelihood of the dog surviving are slim. Even a dog that’s a strong swimmer would have issues swimming through that.

Another example of a commercial encouraging bad behavior toward dogs comes to us from Amazon.com:

In this commercial, a baby girl appears scared of the family’s dog – a doofy-looking golden retriever. But what she loves is her stuffed lion.

Her father decides to use Amazon Prime to fix things. He orders a lion mane costume for the dog from Amazon and thanks to the magic of Amazon Prime, he has it the next day. The dog, wearing the costume, comes into the room and slowly approaches the baby, who at first appears hesitant. But at the 28-second mark, the little baby reaches out toward the dog and gently touches its nose.


Now, at first blush, this might seem cute. But as a trainer (even though I’m only a rookie), it scares the hell out of me.

I’ll explain.

There are two big problems here. First of all, kids the age of the one in the commercial move in very jerky and awkward ways. Jerky and awkward movements can easily spook a dog, causing it to snap or bite. The other problem is that the girl is reaching toward the dog’s face. And even if the girl had moved smoothly and slowly, some dogs just hate things near their faces. Either way, letting a baby reach for a dog’s face is just generally a bad idea.

There was one other thing that really scared me about that commercial. If you blink, you may have missed it. But it was definitely there. When the baby reached for the dog’s face, the dog wrinkled its nose slightly. While such a thing might look cute, it’s actually a sign a dog might be preparing to snap or bite. That dog was definitely telling the girl it did not want her anywhere near its face.

What bothers me about both of these commercials is that the problems I pointed out were unnecessary. Toyota didn’t need to show a dog jumping into a raging river to show a fun camping experience. There are plenty of fun activities the owners could have been doing with their dog on a camping trip that didn’t involve putting the dog’s life at risk and could have still shown off the RAV4.

And in the Amazon commercial, the girl didn’t need to reach for the dog’s face. It would have been better to show the girl reaching to pet the dog’s back or somewhere around the scruff of the neck or maybe the top of the head. What they did not need to show was the girl reaching straight for the dog’s nose.

Not only that, but by airing these commercials, Toyota and Amazon are tacitly implying that doing these things to dogs is ok. On a rational level, I realize that nobody takes advice about how to interact with dogs from commercials for either car companies or online retailers. That said, both reinforce the misconception that behaviors that appear cute or funny. And in the case of the Amazon commercial, it ignores how dogs communicate and tell us how they feel.

There’s not really any great moral to this. Too often, dog videos touted as “cute” or “funny” or “hilarious” show the dogs in uncomfortable or even dangerous situations. Or they show the dogs displaying behaviors that look “cute” if you don’t know how to read a dog’s body language but that actually indicate high levels of fear, stress or anxiety.

And I just ask that you think about that before you share those videos on social media.


Look at these two handsome gents.

After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill Mayeroff‘s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter while he studies to be a professional dog trainer at FetchFind Academy. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups. 

The second time I lost my dog

pet fire safetyBy Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Do you remember the New Year’s Day Blizzard of 1999? I do.

I still had Out-U-Go at the time, and because dogs don’t care about holidays I had to go into work early that day. I took my own two dogs (Sam and Lydia) out first, put them back in the house, hopped in my Jeep Wrangler, and drove through the knee high snow to get to the Oak Park office.

I had been at work for a couple of hours, dealing with last minute requests and cancellations, when I heard fire engines racing towards the Village. “How awful for those people, and on New Year’s Day, in all this snow,” I thought to myself, and went about my business.

Then my phone rang. It was the Oak Park Police Department, asking if I could assist them with a dog they had rescued from the burning house because animal care and control was not available. Not a problem, I told her, I’ll be right over. I gave her my name and she said “Wait – you’re Jamie Damato? We’ve been trying to reach you. It’s your house that’s on fire.”

I don’t remember the drive back, though I do remember being very grateful for four wheel drive and good snow tires. As I plowed to a stop a few houses away, I saw a fireman walking out of the house with Lydia in his arms. I ran over, saw that she was ok (apart from some smoke inhalation), and then asked “Where’s Sam?”

He wasn’t there. The fireman said that he only saw one dog, and no one else had brought a dog out either. They didn’t know there was more than one pet in the house. (I also had two cats at the time, but they were staying with a friend while I worked the busy holiday week.)

Nobody ever wants to hear “we didn’t get your dog out of the burning house”.  

As I stood there in the blizzard, almost hysterical, while everything I owned went up in flames, I saw a faint shape moving down the street.

It was Sam.

Nobody knew how he got out, nobody saw him bolt from the house, but he was alive. I’ve never been so happy to see a dog in my entire life.

I got lucky that day. Even though the house and everything in it was a complete loss, and my upstairs neighbors had to cancel their wedding (which was scheduled for later that afternoon!), I was so thankful that Sam and Lydia made it out alive. I’m also thankful that the cats were not at home, because who would have known they were there? Cats hide under things, and with the amount of smoke billowing from the house there was almost no chance that the firemen would have seen them.

As soon as I moved into a new house, I plastered it with signs like the one above from Pet Fire Rescue Signs, and I haven’t been without them since.

Do yourself and your pets a favor – get a sign and put it up on your lawn, or your front door, or in the front window, and then get another sign and put it at the back of the house.  The fire department can’t save animals that they don’t know are there. Losing all of your belongings is awful, but your pets are far more important than things could ever be.


Read about the first time I lost Sam here.


July 15 is Pet Fire Safety Day. Learn more here.

For Pet Fire Rescue Signs (I love these because they have a reflective film which makes them easier to see), go to their website at www.petfirerescuesigns.com.

For safety tips, visit the Fire Safety Dogs’ website at www.firesafetydogs.com. This is an especially good site if you also have children in the house.