A year makes a big difference. This time last year, I, my partner, and our dogs were stuck in our Brooklyn apartment as NYC assessed the damage done by Superstorm Sandy. Although being stuck at home was frustrating, we were incredibly lucky. Our part of Brooklyn is at a high enough elevation that we weren’t in any of the evacuation zones.
We were also incredibly lucky that, other than a couple of light flickers, we didn’t lose power. We spent the storm sheltered at home, refreshing Facebook, Twitter, and local media outlets to get an idea of what was happening to our family, friends, and the city itself. Many had to evacuate their homes, taking their pets with them.
Mercury was relatively unfazed by the entire storm, but it definitely kicked up some anxiety for Charlotte, who is much more prone to nervousness. Sandy hit a week before my partner and I were leaving for Europe. (Check out all the fun dog stuff I found while on tour.) For days, it looked like we wouldn’t be able to get out because of the damage to runways at NYC airports, but luck was on our side and we were on our airline’s first flight out. The dogs (and cats) stayed home with a sitter. Although she took great care of them, I think all that change of routine, coupled with the traumatic few days of intense storming, was a little too much for our special girl, Charlotte. She is now definitely nervous about any thunderstorm.
Even though my little family was lucky in that our home wasn’t damaged by the storm, it was a HUGE wake-up call for us. Living in NYC, I worry about all kinds of things connected to safety, but before Sandy, weather really wasn’t high on my list of concerns. We didn’t know Sandy was going to be as big and devastating as it was. When I was leaving work the Friday before the storm, I happened to stop at the pet shop for cat and little dog food. At the time, I thought I was being overly paranoid; in actuality, if I hadn’t gotten food that day I don’t know what we would have done. For more than a week afterward, lower Manhattan was almost entirely inaccessible from Brooklyn, and without power, none of our normal pet shops were open.
Now on the one-year anniversary of the storm, I’m thinking a lot about how lucky my family was and how many other New Yorkers (human and canine) weren’t so lucky. Here are a few of my training tips for helping keep your canine family safe during extreme weather. These are specifically geared to when you find yourself in a “shelter in place” scenario; that is, when you’re weathering the crisis from home, instead of evacuating.
Most of us spend a lot of time and energy housebreaking our dogs, so this one might sound strange. However, I think everyone should train their dogs to be able to potty on command, and that includes inside on newspaper or a wee-wee pad.
Be prepared for an evacuation, have canine emergency “go bags” ready that include vaccination and vet records, and make sure that your dogs have identification on them. I don’t rely on microchips because in a natural disaster all normal systems are disrupted; people aren’t taking found dogs to vets to be checked. I want to make sure that somehow if my dogs and I were separated that I’ve made it as easy as possible for us to be reunited. Also, make sure that you have enough food/cookies/medication at home to last a week. Don’t assume that you’ll be able to run out and get more; if infrastructure is damaged, it may take a long time for normal shopping and transportation to be up and running. Also, make sure you account for all animals in your home when you’re stocking up on bottled water.
It’s always good to familiarize dogs with being comfortable in a crate. My dogs are crated daily, but even if use of crates isn’t part of your normal routine, make sure your dog is comfortable spending time in a crate. If there’s a natural disaster, you may need to crate your dog in order to deal with structural problems or other effects of the storm. You’ll also need to crate your dog if you evacuate.
Having to shelter in places is a great time to teach your dog some new tricks, and to brush up on your dog’s favorite brain stimulating games. Trick training is a great way to burn off energy when it’s not possible to get out for long walks. Also, although working with your dog might be the last thing on your mind when a natural disaster strikes, it’s a great distraction, and can help to ease and manage everyone’s nerves and anxiety.
This last tip is specific to apartment dwellers. Make sure that your dog is comfortable taking stairs — lots of them — even in the dark. If your building loses power, you lose the elevator and will have to take your dog out via stairs. The last thing you’ll want to manage is a large dog too afraid to go up or down lots of stairs. This is especially important if you have a large dog, or if carrying your dog is physically challenging for you. Practice taking stairs up and down on a regular basis to ensure it’s something your dog can do comfortably.
Have you and your dogs experienced extreme weather? Did you have to shelter in place or evacuate? How did you keep your dog busy if you couldn’t go outside?
About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.
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