Be Prepared for a Disaster: Our Tips for Evacuating with Dogs
No matter where you live, catastrophe can strike without warning. Even if you don’t have to worry about hurricanes or floods, you could be at risk for unpredictable disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, chemical spills, or even a terrorist attack.
If your kitchen bursts into flames or an officer orders you to leave your home for your own safety, you need to have an emergency plan in place that includes your dogs.
According to the American Kennel Club, each year 500,000 pets are affected by house fires. Jim Carson, of Lake Wylie, South Carolina, was awakened at 1:00 a.m. last January by a firefighter pounding on his door. A neighbor’s burning house threatened to set Jim’s home ablaze. He had to get out. Jim rounded up his dog, Heidi, and cat, Indiana, and took them outside to safety.
Jim says it was blind luck he happened to store the carriers in the closet near the door. “It was nice, quick, and efficient, and now I would never think about keeping them anywhere else," he says. “The outside situation was chaotic, and the animals were scared to death. I was able to put them in the car and out of harm's way. I have no doubt that if they weren't in the cages, they’d have bolted."
If you find yourself in a position when you have to evacuate, never leave your animals behind even if officials promise you’ll only be away for a couple hours. If it’s not safe for you, your dog isn’t safe either. Families with pets have learned the hard way: Police can prevent you from returning for weeks.
“Have some an idea of what you would do if you had to evacuate,” says Herb Carver, aka The Catastrophe Geek. Carver recommends determining ahead of time where in your home you would seek shelter from an earthquake, tornado, or flood. Where would you go if you had to evacuate? What would your pet need?
Dick Green, the senior director of disaster response for the ASPCA, says because disasters such as train derailments or earthquakes provide no warning, “we have to be dependent on preplanning. Anticipate; lean forward.”
The Electrical Safety Foundation International suggests posting a pet alert sticker to a window in the front of your home. If you end up outside without your dog, immediately tell firefighters your pet is trapped inside. Don’t go back to rescue pets yourself.
Before the sparks fly, train your dog to go to his crate or the safe room on command.
“Keep the carrier out in the open and throw treats in there from time to time, so he keeps checking,” says Alice Moon-Fanelli, Ph.D., an assistant professor and a certified-applied animal behaviorist with Animal Behavior Consultations in Brooklyn, Connecticut. “Keep a towel in there to make it comfy.”
Herb Carver also recommends training your dog to respond to a whistle because your pet may not be able to hear your voice over alarms. It also makes it easier for you to catch him in the aftermath.
Just like your high school fire drills, go through the motions occasionally, says Lynn Molnar, founder and president of Thankful Paws mobile pet food bank. “Know where you will drive to be safe. Pick several locations, in case you’re unable to take your preferred route. Pets take their emotional cues from us. If you have a plan, and stay calm, your dog will be too."
Dr. Green says his family practices kenneling all the time. It takes me two minutes to run the drill.
Whenever you first get warning that you are likely in the damage path of a hurricane, or you begin to see flood waters rise, be proactive. Take a vacation day to get a head start on the traffic.
Many emergency shelters don’t allow dogs, says Jim Cobb of Survival Weekly. The evacuation shelters that accept dogs will likely require Fido to be leashed and muzzled or kept in a crate, as well as requiring proof of current immunizations.
You might want to make alternate arrangements with family or at a dog-friendly hotel. Don’t delay. As soon as you decide to leave, make your lodging reservations. If several counties are bugging out, hotels that accept pets will quickly fill up. If you leave early, you should only need a three-day supply of dog food and water. Your destination will have pet supply store where you can restock.
Matt Lawrence, author of What To Do 'Til the Cavalry Comes: A Family Guide to Preparedness in 21st Century America, says dog owners should make contact with those they plan to stay with to ensure that their pets are welcome.
Your dog should wear current rabies tags and a name tag inscribed with your cell phone and the number of a friend or relative. Should you become separated, his ID tags will reunite you. But remember collars can come off, and with it your pet’s identity.
A microchip ensures your dog will never lose his ID. And equally as important as getting the microchip is registering the chip with a national registry and notifying the registry whenever your contact information changes.
If your dog doesn’t have a microchip, keep a picture of him on your cell phone for identification purposes.
Your pet's evacuation kit
Every pet in the house needs his own carrier and a "go bag" with everything he’ll need while he’s away from home. When putting together your dog’s kit, include food, water, and bowls that your pet is familiar with.
Keep emergency items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily (plastic tub, duffle bags, covered trash containers, etc.). Tape the checklist below to it. Don’t forget to make notes when you replace food, water, and medications (every six months is a good method).
Your dog’s evacuation kit should include:
1. An accessible carrier for every pet
When a firefighter is telling you to get out, you don’t want to have to dig in the basement under your 50-year collection of National Geographics.
Even if your dog rides well in the car, he still needs a carrier. You never know what your housing situation will be. Dog-friendly hotels may require you to crate your pet when you’re away from the room, or evacuations shelters may require your pet to stay confined.
Matt Lawrence says since stressed dogs may fear-bite, ignore commands, or attempt to flee, the crate protects your pet as well as the people around him. The crate should be big enough to allow your dog to stand up and turn around. Line the carrier floor with puppy pads. Write your contact information in permanent marker on the carrier and duct tape his photo to it.
- A list and photo of each of your pets, including their breed, age, sex, color, and markings.
- Keep copies of your pet’s medical and vaccination records. If your vet’s clinic receives a direct impact, you’ve lost those records. Every time you have lab work or procedures performed, ask your vet for copies. Veterinary records may also be needed for transport across state lines.
- Photocopies of ownership papers, along with city license, and pet insurance policy.
- A list of phone numbers, including your veterinarian, pet-friendly motels, emergency clinic, animal poison control center, and area animal shelters. You can print a free Pet ID/Information form and a "Notify In Case of Emergency" card.
3. Food and water
You'll need at least a three-day supply (or two weeks, depending on your situation). If you feed wet food, get cans with pull tabs. Pack smaller cans, says Paul Purcell of Disaster Prep 101, because you probably won’t have access to refrigeration. Duct tape a zippered bag of dry food to the outside of the carrier, and regularly replace old kibble with fresh food. And don’t forget your dog’s "comfort foods" to help keep him calm.
An adequate supply of water is one gallon per pet per day -- more if he’s a big a giant breed.
Your dog's kit should also include:
- Food and water bowls.
- Harness, leash, muzzle. For disaster planning purposes, always plan to put a harness on your dog. It’s safer for them, and shows strangers that you're in control of your animal. Since strangers may have to handle your dog, include an inexpensive muzzle in your evacuation kit.
- Medications. If your pet requires maintenance medications, ask your vet for a two-week supply in either pills or un-reconstituted powder, or keep an unfilled drug prescription with your dog’s evacuation paperwork.
- Pooper scooper, and plastic bags for waste.
- Puppy pads, newspaper.
- Paper towels and baby wipes.
- Pet first aid kit.
- Favorite toy, blanket or bed. Store the dog parent’s worn unwashed T-shirts in a zippered plastic bag. It can be used as part of their bedding and make them feel more at ease.
- Brush/comb, for long-haired dogs.
- Tranquilizers or calming remedies. Rescue Remedy, DAP, etc.
- Odor neutralizer.
- Duct tape, in case the carrier is damaged.
Have you ever been in an emergency with your dog? Tell us your story in the comments.
Read more on emergency preparedness:
- How to Make a Winter Disaster Preparedness Kit for Your Dog
- The Importance of Having a Dog First Aid Kit
- Emergency Preparedness: 5 Tips for Dog Safety in
- 8 Dog First Aid Items You've Probably Left Out of Your Kit
- 5 Tips on Disaster Preparedness for You and Your Dog
- 12 Tips for Keeping Dogs Safe During a Disaster
- 10 Ways My Dog and I Prepare for Natural Disasters
About the author: Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of AdoptAShelter.com and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon.