Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Disaster Sheltering for Companion Animals: It's never too late to be prepared

One of the lessons of Hurricane Katrina and other recent disasters is that people are reluctant to evacuate a dangerous area without their pets. When owners are not home during a disaster, they will often try to come back for their pets even at the risk of endangering their own lives. In the past, emergency responders have made little or no provision for evacuating animals with their owners, leading to conflicts at the site of the disaster and in shelters later on.

After Katrina, federal law changed to require pets to be managed along with people in disasters.
  In October 6, 2006, Pets Evacuation, Transportation Standards Act (PETS) was passed. Many agencies now recognize this issue and have developed guidelines for accommodating pets during disasters.
Animal Critical Care & Emergency Services (ACCES) and the American Humane Association have teamed up to offer a course for community members to learn how to set up emergency sheltering for companion animals in the event of a disaster.  This course is primarily aimed  at those interested in the welfare of animals during or after a disaster, including professionals trained in disaster response, emergency medical services personnel, firefighters, animal shelter staff, animal control officers, veterinarians and veterinary technicians, animal handlers/trainers and Red Cross volunteers. The course will be held July 9-10, 2011 from 9a.m. to 5p.m. at ACCES Renton, located at 4208 Lind Ave SW in Renton, WA.  Tuition for the class is $135 and includes two days of lectures, a workbook, charts, illustrations and a certificate of completion. 
Register for the course by visiting:
While these changes will help all pet owners, it is ultimately up to owners to plan for their pets and themselves in a natural disaster.
Disasters can run the gambit from very personal to region-wide, so any plan needs to consider various levels of preparedness. A personal disaster such as a family illness or accident that takes you away from your home for more than a few hours and up to a few days requires planning. Other unforeseen emergencies could be icy or otherwise closed roads that prevent you from getting home, or a police road block that cordons off your neighborhood for many hours.
The Humane Society of the United States recommends the following actions to make sure your pets are taken care of when everyday events like these prevent you from taking care of your pets:
•Find a trusted neighbor and give them a key to your house or barn. Make sure this
person is comfortable and familiar with your pets.
•Make sure the neighbor knows your pets’ whereabouts and habits, so they will not have to waste precious time trying to find or catch them.
•Create a pet emergency/disaster kit and place it in a prominent place where your neighbor can find it (see kit checklist below).
•If the emergency involves evacuation, make sure the neighbor would be willing to take your pets and has access to the appropriate carriers and leashes. Plan to meet at a prearranged location.
•If you use a pet sitting service, they may be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.
In your pet disaster kit, you should include:
•Food and water for at least five days for each pet, bowls and a manual can opener if you are packing canned pet food.
•Medications and medical records stored in a waterproof container and a first aid kit. A pet first aid book is also good to include.
•A cat litter box, litter, garbage bags to collect all pets’ waste, and litter scoop.
•Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and carriers to transport pets safely and to ensure that your pets can’t escape. Carriers should be large enough for the animal to stand comfortably, turn around and lie down. Your pet may have to stay in the carrier for hours at a time while you are away from home. Be sure to have a secure cage with no loose objects inside it to accommodate smaller pets. These may require blankets or towels for bedding and warmth, and other special items.
•Current photos and descriptions of your pets to help others identify them in case you and your pets become separated and to prove that they are yours.
•Pet beds and toys, if you can easily take them, to reduce stress.
•Information about your pets’ feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to board your pets or place them in foster care.
Other useful items include newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags, grooming items and household bleach.
In a more regional disaster (in our area, earthquakes or severe winter storms and flooding), different considerations need to be addressed. Primary would be shelter for you and your pet either in place (your home) or after evacuation.
Most evacuation shelters will not allow animals except for service animals. In a disaster you will need to provide shelter for your pet. You should plan for this well ahead of any disaster. Call hotels outside the immediate area to see if they will take pets. Try and make a list of places you can go. Call animal shelters, boarding facilities and friends or family outside of the likely affected area. Make a contingency plan in case you are far from home when an evacuation order comes. A trusted friend or neighbor might be willing to evacuate your pets for you. It helps if that person is familiar with your pets (and likewise your pets comfortable with that person), has a key to your home, and knows where carriers and leashes will be. Arrange for a meeting place where you can take custody of them.
If at all possible, evacuate your pets with you. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you have warning of a disaster, evacuate, don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation. It will be more difficult to get where you need to go and your options will be limited if you wait until the last minute. If you leave your home without your pets even for a few hours, you may not be allowed back in to get them. It is better to err on the side of caution by moving your pets earlier, even if it turns out to have been unnecessary, if it might prevent difficulties in a disaster.
If you cannot evacuate, you need to make a safe environment in your home. Keep your pets confined or on leashes and close by. Do not let them wander; you may not be able to safely round them up if the worst happens. Set up a safe room in your house and store your disaster kit there. Make plans for your own well being and safety as well. You cannot help your pets if you are trapped, sick or injured. And keep communication available. A cell phone might work but ultimately a portable radio is necessary if all other communication is down.
After a disaster where significant area damage has occurred, keep your pets safe by restricting their movement by either confining them or keeping them on a leash. Do not allow them to roam. Familiar landmarks and smells may have been obliterated and they could become disoriented and lost. Toxic substances may have spilled. Dangerously damaged structures could collapse. There may be broken glass, splinters, nails, etc. lying around which are hazards for any species of pet.
Be patient with your animals (and with yourself). These are traumatic experiences for everyone and can lead to unpleasant behavioral changes. Try and return to as normal a routine as possible, as soon as possible. This will be comfort to everyone
Include as much information as possible on your pet tag. This includes a phone number where you are reachable day or night.
And finally, in any of these situations, positive identification for your pet is essential. If your pet gets lost or is sheltered somewhere, mixed in with other animals, a tag or microchip can help get your pets back to you.
With some foresight and planning, these unavoidable situations can be moderated and returning to a normal life can occur sooner for your entire family.
Resources:Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) (From which much of the information above is borrowed)
American Red Cross-

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