MuttShack Asks: If Disaster Strikes, Are You and Your Dog Prepared?

In the aftermath of the tsunami, the world's thoughts and prayers are with the people and animals of Japan. As we all try to comprehend...

Julia Szabo  |  Mar 14th 2011


In the aftermath of the tsunami, the world’s thoughts and prayers are with the people and animals of Japan. As we all try to comprehend the terrifying devastation, Dogsters are wondering how we would cope if a comparable natural disaster were to strike the United States. How would we evacuate our own pets?What could we do to help other people’s pets, or the pets at our local animal shelter?

Expertly answering these questions (and many more)is the specialty of MuttShack Animal Rescue Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit disaster-reponse organization based in New Orleans and Los Angeles, with an international network of volunteers. Its founders, Amanda and Martin St. John,namedMuttShack in honor of their own three rescued mixed-breeds, Muttley, Roxy, and Chevy.

The St.Johnsearned their expertise the hard way: During one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

In 2005,when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, MuttShack volunteers arrived on the scene, the only rescue group with a medical facility working inside the devastated city of New Orleans. Against all odds, with no medical supplies, no electricity or waste management system, the “Muttshackers” managed to clean out the classrooms in a local school to set up a MASH unit a clinic for free veterinary medical triage. They stayed in New Orleans through hurricanes Rita and Wilma, saving some 3,000 animals.

Vowing that “The people of New Orleans will never be separated from their dogs again,” thecouple arranged for 105 temperature controlled trucks to transport pets out of the city in the event of the next natural disaster. Their foresight paid off for thedog loversof New Orleans. When Hurricane Gustav hit in 2008, MuttShack immediately went into full deployment mode, evacuating pets from 13 coastal parishes to Shreveport, where the animals and their people were housed in shelters next to each other.

They also assisted with evacuating pets from local animal shelters and with their network of MuttShack Captains all over the country, transporting them out, and adopting them into new homes within days. Not only were the animals saved from the hurricane, but they found homes escaping the high kill shelter where the majority of them would have been killed.

All along, MuttShack has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of disaster preparedness through its Emergency Management Institute (EMI) Training.MuttShack’s Animal Rescue Certification programoffers online courses that get trained volunteers deployed to the front lines – not stopped at the gatewith the “spontaneous volunteers.” To learn more, go here.

But a tsunami is very different from a hurricane, as Martin points out:”A hurricane moves at 10 to17 miles per hour when it’s really moving. A tsunami moves between 500 and 900 mph. It’s the difference between 30 hours from now and 5 minutes. How do you prepare for that?”

There’s only one way, Amanda says:Prioritize. “Forget your legal documents – the best way to prepare for that is to get everything scanned and uploadedto a secure server via the Internet.When you only have5 minutes, the last thing you need to be worrying about is physical stuff when you need to worry about lives.”

“A situation like this reminds us that these things can strike at any time,” Martin adds, “but the very fact that we’re all thinking about it now puts us in the right frame of mind so we can be mentally ready to say, What doI grab?”

“Discuss your 5-minute evacuation plan with your family,” Amanda advises. “Decide who willgrab which kids and which pets, andhave a basicdisasterpreparedness kit ready.Keeppet necessities such as leashes,carriers, pet food, and blanketsin your car. Also,keep cash on hand, because ATMs probably won’t be working.”

With a plan in place, you have a much better chance of keeping all members of your family together and safe during adisaster, so you can be out of there as a team, and ready togoas far away from the point of impact as possible.

In the event that you are not home when disaster strikes, definitely have a sticker on your front door alerting rescuers to the presence of pets inside. (MuttShack will send you theirs for a small pay-as-you-wishdonation.)

Every time disaster images fill the TV screen, Ilose sleep worryingnotjust about my pets, but the ones at animal shelters around the country and the world. I feel fortunate to live in New York City, where MuttShack is the city’s official disaster partner – which means that in the event of a disaster, MuttShackers will assist in evacuating the city’s animal shelters, bringing thousands of pets to safety. The animals of New Yorkcouldn’t be in better hands.

To make a donation so MuttShack can continue doing dog’s work, go here.

Do you have an escape planin place in case disaster strikes? Tell us about it in the comments.