June 1 officially kicked off the 2012 hurricane season. But even if you don't live in a hurricane-prone region, many other disasters can strike, from tornadoes to wildfires, earthquakes and floods. If you have pets, be prepared. Rule No.1: If you have pets and evacuation is required, take them with you. Of course, to do that, you must be able to round up your animals.
Still, it's human nature not to think about disasters until they strike. "The most important decision you can make in advance is to microchip your pets," says Reis. "But registration (with the microchip provider) is equally as important, so that when the chip is scanned, current contact information is available."
Reis recommends offering alternative contact information (for a friend or relative) on dog tags, as well as when registering a microchip. "If you can't be reached, at least there's an alternative person to try," she says. Sometimes animals end up outside he emergency zone.
After tornadoes destroyed entire neighborhoods in Joplin, MO, last year, some recovered pets ended up far outside town, Reis recalls. "That's when a microchip is really necessary. It's very confusing, people are frantic and they don't know where to search. Having that chip with up-to-date registration information is a great tool that can save the life of your pet." Many dogs and cats were reunited with their owners after the Joplin storm through microchips.
Preparation also means knowing where your cat carriers are stored, then persuading your pets to go inside, and fast. If you're told to evacuate, there will be no time to chase pets around the house. "The first thing I tell people to do is find the cats and put them in their carriers," says Reis. "If you wait until you grab your photos, financial information and whatever else, and then go to get the cats, they've picked up on your nerves, and outside sounds and smells, and are likely to hide."
Horses aren't accustomed to walking into trailers without practice. While it's no easy task to stuff a cat in a carrier, pushing an unwilling horse into a trailer might be nearly impossible. You also need to know the closest evacuation site for horses, usually the local fairgrounds.
Even if you know where to take your horse, where should you and your other pets go? Keep a list handy of pet-friendly hotels or motels, but also understand that these places may fill up fast. Consider Uncle Buddy and Aunt Sally's house.
Sometimes, the reality is you may need to stay at a Red Cross shelter. If you're lucky, a shelter for pets will be adjacent to the facility. Pet owners unwilling to leave their homes when ordered to evacuate may place first responders, themselves and their animals in jeopardy. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana coastline in 2005, the chaos playing out on national TV; many people refused to leave their homes without their pets. Their fears were understandable; some animals left behind during disasters don't survive. While you'd think local government agencies and other groups providing emergency services would understand this fact by now, alternative arrangements for people with pets remain non-existent in too many communities.
No matter where you land with your pets in an emergency, you'll need supplies. Reis recommends packing what you'll need in advance, perhaps in a large container. "The rule is three days of everything," she says. "Three days of food, cat litter, as well as vaccination records." Also, for full proof identification -- in case you're separated from your pets -- Reis recommends carrying a photo with you of each pet."
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services
Tags: American Humane Association, Hurrican Katrina, Joplin, Pets in Disasters, pets in Hurricanes, pets in tornadoes, pets in wildfires, Red Cross, Red Star Emergency Services, Steve Dale archives, Tracy Reis