Author’s note: While writing this article, my sister from Aurora, Colorado, called describing an approaching cloud lowering and emitting a loud rumbling noise, basically a tornado aloft. Margaret (who lives in a second-story apartment) took cover in the bathroom of the complex’s gymnasium bathroom. Fortunately the tornado touched down in an unpopulated area near Denver. Tornadoes happen. Be prepared.
It’s a dangerous world. While we feel safe in our own homes, you never know when Mother Nature is going to knock your door down. In the wag of a tail, you can find yourself dashing for cover.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), no community is immune from tornadoes. They’ve occurred in every state. They can drop down any day of the year, and at any hour. Wind speeds can exceed 250 mph with damage paths wider than a mile. Even with today’s advanced radar, NOAA says the average lead-time for tornado warnings is only 13 minutes.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you,” says Justin Tranchita. Justin and his English Bulldog, Oscar, appear on the Discovery Channel reality show Game of Pawns set in a Branson, MO, pawn shop.
On February 29, 2012, when Oscar was just a puppy, a 400-yard-wide tornado with winds of 120 to 130 mph blew through Branson. “When the tornado alarms went off and the trees started to blow sideways, I was in complete terror and shock,” Justin says. “Oscar and I ran into the bathroom like Shaggy and Scooby! We hunkered down in the tub. I remember squeezing his fat little body so tightly!”
Justin’s family wasn’t home at the time. Fortunately, the tornado hit half a mile away. Justin’s home suffered some wind damage, but his father’s store was completely destroyed.
After the storm, Justin took tornado preparation more seriously. He moved to a home with a tornado shelter. He packed an emergency bag for Oscar containing canned food, doggy toys, and bottled water. Justin takes Oscar into the safe room whenever a Tornado Watch is announced.
Recently, Justin had an opportunity to test his plan when the National Weather Service issued a Tornado Watch. “Things went much smoother,” he says. Oscar and the kids sat in the shelter; Justin joined them with the weather radio. Everyone had disaster kits. Fortunately, no tornado developed, but everyone felt safe and comfortable. Oscar was unfazed because he had his chew toy to munch on.
Justin’s kids have even taught Oscar an evacuation code word that sends him to a specific place in the home. Way to go, Justin!
“Pets are part of the family,” says Dr. Matthew Minson, the team medical director for Texas Task Force 1 Urban Search & Rescue, who is board certified in disaster medicine. “You need to protect yourself and your pets during a high-impact event such as a tornado. Remember, what’s best for you is usually what’s best for your animals.”
Here are eight tips for keeping your dog safe during a tornado.
1. Get identification
Start preparation today by providing your dog with ID tag, or better still, permanent identification.
In March 2014, a Beagle named Sassy was returned to her owner 17 months after she disappeared, thanks to a microchip. Cindy Romans searched for her missing dog for months, but gave up, believing the Beagle had fallen prey to a coyote. More than 400 miles away, a vet discovered Sassy’s chip. In no time, Sassy returned to the loving arms of her family.
Tags can be lost, but a microchip is forever. If you are separated during a tornado, a chip gives you and your dog the best chance of being reunited. Make certain to register the chip with a national registry database, and keep the info current should you move or change phone numbers. Include a secondary contact who lives outside of your area. If phone service is disrupted, your backup person can be contacted.
Also, carry photos of your dogs on your cell phone and give copies to family outside your immediate area. The pictures can help prove ownership and can be placed on lost pet posters.
Dr. Minson says to make sure your pet has current vaccinations, since pet-friendly evacuation shelters require them. If your dog has a health problem, he should wear a pet alert tag.
2. Know what you’ll do before it happens
“Have some an idea of where to go in your home during an earthquake, tornado or flood,” says Herb Carver, aka The Catastrophe Geek.
If you don’t have a basement or tornado shelter, don’t panic. Designate a safe room in the smallest, innermost room on the lowest floor of your home. The room should have no windows, skylights or glass doors. Great safe-room choices include an interior bathroom or closet or under-stairs storage.
Also, don’t leave your home during a tornado unless you live in a mobile home or on an elevated floor — manufactured housing isn’t safe in high winds. Contact your property manager now and find out where to seek shelter.
3. Know weather terminology
Pay attention to the weather forecast. If there’s a potential for severe weather in your area, keep your ear tuned to the TV, radio or Internet for further advisories. If severe storm watches are issued for your area, that’s your cue to protect your dog — don’t wait until the spit hits the fan. It’s important to understand the difference between a severe weather watches and warnings. Here are some terms and their meanings:
- SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH: Conditions are right for the development of thunderstorms that may produce large hail or damaging winds. Go about your normal activities, but monitor broadcasts for updates and warnings.
- TORNADO WATCH: Conditions are favorable for the formation of thunderstorms capable of producing a tornado.
- SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING: A severe thunderstorm is occurring.
- TORNADO WARNING: A tornado has been spotted or has been detected by radar.
When a Tornado Watch is issued, bring dogs and cats indoors, say Dr. Dick Green, the senior director of disaster response for the ASPCA. “Place them in a kennel or confine them in the safe room.”
4. Take cover
If you haven’t already done so, when the National Weather Service issues a Tornado Warning, it’s time for everyone to take cover in your safe room. Act quickly. On an average, you’ll only have 13 minutes notice. Put both dogs and cats in a carrier. DO NOT open your windows! If it hits your home, the tornado will open them for you.
Inside the safe room, cover yourself and your dog’s crate with a mattress or blanket.
If your safe room happens to be the laundry room, you can put small pet carriers inside your dryer, with the dryer door open,” says Paul Purcell of Disaster Prep 101. “The dryer, being a double-walled metal appliance, offers extra layers of crush and projectile protection.”
5. Practice your plan
Every few months, hold tornado drills, just like you did in school. Pick a night when everyone is at home. Assign the responsibility of each pet to a different family member. Practice leashing your dog and calmly leading him to your safe room. Better still, train him to go to the shelter on command. And don’t forget to bring the treats and toys. Make it fun for the dog and the kids.
6. Dangers in the aftermath
After the storm has passed, don’t let your pets outside until you get the all-clear from local officials. Broken glass, sharp sticks, exposed nails, downed electrical lines and jutting rebar can cause a host of injuries.
Dr. Minson says wild animals, displaced from their habitat, also become a threat to your pets. After a flood, dangerous objects can lurk beneath storm water, and you can lose pets down storm drains and manholes. Inside your home, be cautious about your water. The city’s water supply may be contaminated.
7. Know what to do if your pet escapes
If you and your dog become separated, know where to search for lost animals. During a disaster, strays are usually taken to your animal control agency or humane society. That’s when you’ll be grateful you had that microchip and cell phone photos. Keep the animal shelter’s phone number in your cell phone directory.
Carver of The Catastrophe Geek says to train your dog to respond to the sound of a whistle. “Should a tornado occur, your animal may not be able to hear your voice over alarms or natural noise. Also, if you weren’t able to catch your pet before the event, you can use the whistle to call for him in the aftermath.”
8. Maintain emergency provisions
“Assembling a small emergency kit for your pet is a wise move,” says Jim Cobb of SurvivalWeekly.com. Even if the storm doesn’t strike you directly, you may experience power, water and/or phone disruptions. Keep your emergency provisions in waterproof containers in your safe room, if possible. Maintain a two-week supply of dog food, water and medications for each pet in case you have to shelter in place.
“If you feed wet food, get pouches or small cans with pull tabs,” says Purcell. “You may be in a situation with no power for refrigeration, so food cannot be stored.”
Also, store dry food in plastic containers or zippered bags. Keep one gallon of water per person and per pet per day.
Your shelter kit Go Bag should include:
- a pet first-aid kit
- a properly sized carrier
- disposable bowls and plastic spoons
- a favorite toy or blanket
- harness, leash, and muzzle
- plastic bags for poop disposal
- your dog’s favorite comfort foods
- a copy of your dog’s immunization record.
If you start planning ahead today, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your entire family safe and together when disaster strikes.
Read more on disaster preparation for dogs:
- 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
- How to Make a Winter Disaster Preparedness Kit for Your Dog
- How My Four Dogs and I Are Preparing for Hurricane Sandy
- Cats and Tornadoes: 8 Tips for Keeping Your Pet Safe
Learn more about dogs with Dogster:
- 9 Tips for Keeping Your Dog Cool This Summer
- Let’s Talk: Does Your Dog Love to Roll in Stinky Things?
- Be Polite to Your Dog — It Benefits Both of You
About the author: Dusty Rainbolt was a National Weather Service-trained amateur radio storm spotter in the 1970s and 80s working with RACES and ARES in the Dallas area. With the arrival of Doppler radar Dusty is content to huddle in her central bathroom with and husband, her cats and her dog, Abby. She is editor-in-chief of AdoptAShelter.com and vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association. Her latest award-winning novel is Death Under the Crescent Moon (Yard Dog Press).