After the recent significant earthquakes in Orange County, CA, I have received quite a few emails asking me to revisit disaster preparedness for pet owners. Since April is “Earthquake Preparedness Month,” I am all for reminding everyone about the basics again.
First and foremost, make sure you have emergency supplies for yourself! Think airline safety and how the flight attendants always tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you put a mask on your child. If you are unable to take care of yourself, you won’t really be in a position to take care of your pets. So come on people, if you haven’t already done so, get your emergency supplies together. Our March earthquakes here in the OC should make that abundantly clear.
Now lets talk animals! For household pets: dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, rabbits, etc., make sure you have travel cages and kennels. These should be strong but easy to store and carry. Collapsible, portable enclosures are really the way to go——if you can keep them in your car’s trunk, all the better. Otherwise, keep them as close to your front door as possible. You don’t want to have to worry about finding anything and packing in the event of immediate evacuations.
Put together a duffle bag of pet supplies. This should include food and medications (that are continually cycled——used and replaced——so that they are fresh), extra leashes and collars with I.D. tags, blankets, towels, cat litter, disposable litter boxes, plastic bags (to dispose of pet waster), non-spillable bowls, bottled water, veterinary records and proof of vaccinations, phone numbers of veterinarians, and photographs of each pet——preferably photos of you and your pets in case you get separated or have to leave your pet and later need to prove ownership.
Have your pets microchipped. If they are already, ask your veterinarian to scan your pet at every routine examination to ensure the chip is still readable and has not migrated from the original injection area. Microchips are a pet’s best hope for getting back to its owners. If you've moved and/or changed phone numbers since your pet received his microchip, make sure you contact the company or veterinary hospital that maintains the database record so that everything can be updated.
Get your pets used to traveling in a car. Most dogs love to go for rides, but cats aren't particularly keen on the idea. It is probably best to put cats into cardboard cat carriers so that they can’t see what’s going on. They will still complain, but they will be much safer and calmer in a somewhat dark, small, enclosed space.
If you have horses, llamas, alpacas, or other large animals, practice trailering them on a regular basis. Livestock that never travel in trailers are very difficult to evacuate. Help them learn that getting into and out vehicles is A-OK. Go for short drives with them. Map out where there are stables you can go to that are out of the area. Keep those stable phone numbers available so you can call them in the event of a disaster and make sure they are capable of taking in evacuated large animals.
Since disasters are generally not predictable, there is a good chance your pets will be alone at your home when something serious happens. It is always a good idea to network with trusted neighbors, family, and friends who live close by so that they can get your pets and keep them until you can all meet up. Make sure these people are comfortable with your animals and that your animals are comfortable with them. They should also be familiar with where you keep your supplies so they can grab everything your pets will need before they evacuate.
Sometimes local phone calling capability is impacted during a disaster. It is important that you and your designated animal handling people have the phone number of someone who lives out of state who you predetermine to serve as a central contact. That way, you can communicate your whereabouts and status to this point-person who can relay your messages to the other parties.
Remember, try to stay calm during an emergency. Animals do pick up on high intensity emotions. If you want to keep them calm and orderly, you must remain grounded as well.
Natural disasters will always be a potential threat. However, by preparing to the best of your ability, you can keep your family (including your pets) safe and out of harm’s way.