A tiny sprinkle of flurries can turn into a blizzard in an instant, cutting you off from the outside world for days or even weeks at a time. A winter rainstorm can turn to an ice storm without any notice, knocking out power lines and leaving you stranded without any way to get supplies. It’s rare that we think about these sorts of emergencies until they happen. By then, it’s too late to make the proper preparations and create a well-stocked winter disaster kit for you and your canine companions.
The No. 1 thing you need to know in an emergency, according to Dana Gardner, Vice President of the Board of the Disaster Animal Response Team of Athens County, Ohio, is that you do not have to leave your pets behind. If you’re required to evacuate to a shelter in the event of a winter storm, you are allowed to bring your pets with you, thanks to the provisions made by the 2006 Federal Pets and Animals Transportation Standards Act.
When you bring your dog to a shelter to wait out the storms, they should be equipped to handle your pet for the duration of your stay. Even so, it’s a good idea to have your own supplies on hand. And if you’re not evacuating to a shelter, but sheltering in place at your own home or the home of a friend, it’s doubly important to have the right supplies to keep your dog safe and warm.
Water is essential to survival, even in cold weather. A good rule of thumb, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is to have at least seven days worth of water for each person and dog you’re sheltering. Humans require about a gallon a day. While your canine companion may not need that much, it’s still ideal to have extra.
Food comes second only to water. Aim to have seven days’ worth of food for your pup — preferably non-perishable canned food with a pop top. A pop top can will save you the hassle of having to remember a can opener, and the moisture in canned food can help with your pet’s water intake if he or she isn’t drinking that much due to stress.
Gardner also stresses keeping a picture of you with your dog in your winter disaster kit. If you and your dog get lost or separated, a photo can be invaluable for identification purposes. Additionally, keep all of your emergency contact information in an easy-to-access place: where you can be reached, contact info for a friend or family member outside the area of disaster, and any neighbors who you may swap pet care duties with. Also keep a list of any of your pet’s medications on hand.
After food and water comes shelter and warmth. Gardner suggests networking with your neighbors. In the event of a power outage due to winter storms, some of your neighbors may have alternate sources of heat, such as a wood burning stove or generator. If you ask nicely, they may be willing to board you and your dogs for the duration of the disaster.
When dealing with wet winter weather, always make sure your dog’s shelter is warm and dry. If your dog is normally an outside dog with a house of his own, consider bringing him inside with you. If this isn’t possible, place a piece of styrofoam beneath his dog house to keep him off the cold, wet ground, and insulate the sides of the dog house with a combination of straw, blankets, and newspaper.
One cheap and invaluable tool for your winter disaster kit is a space blanket. These blankets are designed to reflect body heat back to the wearer. You can cover the inside of your outdoor dog’s house to provide extra warmth, or bundle up your pet indoors. Gardner cautions that dogs are “going to nest and fluff and turn” and to take that into consideration. Space blankets rip easily, so you may want to substitute aluminum foil, which is a bit less effective but still provides heat-reflective qualities.
Reusable hand warmers can be a valuable addition to your pet’s winter emergency kit, but only if you are able to supervise your dog at all times. These hand warmers contain chemicals, and if your pup chews on them you could be in for a world of trouble. If you’re snuggling with your canine companion under a pile of blankets, place the hand warmers between layers of blankets where your buddy can’t get to them. Otherwise, opt for a hot water bottle instead.
It’s no surprise to any dog owner that dogs pick up on stress very easily. One thing to keep in your disaster kit at all times is a blanket or shirt that smells like home. This can calm your canine companion and remind her that even though things are hectic and up in the air, she’s still got her best friend and that you’re not going anywhere without her.
When it comes to winter emergencies, you and your dog are in this together. Take care of him and he’ll take care of you. The key things to remember are water, food and insulation, insulation and more insulation. And remember, like Gardner says, “You don’t have to leave them behind!”
About Caitlin Seida: Owned by three cats and two dogs, she never met an animal she didn’t like. A Jill-of-All-Trades, she splits her workday as a writer, humane society advocate and on-call vet tech. What little free time she has goes into pinup modeling, advocating for self-acceptance, knitting and trying to maintain her haunted house (really!).
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