As the winds blow on
And the waters rise deep
You can hear their cries
You can hear them weep
Those you have brought into your home
Those who are loyal, caring and warm.
You feed them each day, and tell them to stay
And now when they need you, don't turn them away.
When you vowed to love, when you vowed to care
You vowed to sacrifice, and vowed to prepare.
So now in times of trouble and strife
You are responsible for more than one life.
You need to plan, think, and prepare
For all those who need you
Those who depend on your care.
— Cindy Swancott Lovern
In the last decade, it seems we’ve seen more than our share of man-made and natural disasters in which entire towns or villages have been destroyed, homes and businesses lost, families displaced, and people injured or killed.
The most deadly disasters of the decade so far in terms of human fatalities were the 2003 heat waves across Europe and a 2005 earthquake in Pakistan which took over 70,000 lives each.
There was the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 which left almost a quarter million dead.
In 2008, an earthquake in China killed over 85,000 and a cyclone in Myanmar took the lives of almost 140,000 people.
And in January of this year, a massive earthquake struck Haiti and is estimated to have killed over 300,000 residents and visitors.
In the U.S. alone since 2000 we’ve experienced disasters including:
- 9/11/01 terror attacks
- Hurricanes including Katrina in 2005
- Building fires
- Airplane crashes
- Other disasters both natural and man-made
What Happens to Family Pets When Disaster Strikes?
It’s estimated about 600,000 companion animals died or were left homeless as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
Dogs, cats and other pets left behind in a disaster can die quickly by drowning or fire, for example. Or they can die slow, agonizing deaths confined in a condemned home, tied up in a backyard, or waiting inside an apartment for an owner who won’t be returning.
If they are able to escape confinement, they wander the streets looking for water, food and shelter, and can ultimately succumb to dehydration, starvation or disease.
Pets lucky enough to be rescued can be deeply traumatized by what they’ve been through, and exhibit stress-related behaviors that make adoption by a new family difficult.
And there’s also the terrible sense of loss and grief pet parents feel when they don’t know what’s become of a beloved family pet left behind.
What Will You Do With Your Pet in an Emergency?
The time to think about it is now. If you’ve never experienced a natural or man-made disaster that has driven you from your home, you might feel as though “it will never happen to me.”
But disaster can strike anywhere, at any time. Just a bit of preparation can mean the difference between survival and the alternative for all the members of your household.
The first thing you should plan for is to take your pet with you if you evacuate. You really have no way of knowing how long you’ll be gone, and if staying in your home isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pet, either.
There will be few times in the life of your beloved companion that he will need you more than in the event of a disaster.
- Make sure your pet has an up-to-date ID tag at all times. Consider adding the name and phone number of a family member or friend who doesn’t live in your immediate area. If you’re not reachable, there’ll be someone at the other number who will be.
- Make a list of places that will shelter your pets in an emergency. This might include a hotel or motel in your area or the home of a family member or friend. Ideally you’ll want to keep your pet with you, but if you must separate temporarily, include on your list the addresses and phone numbers of any nearby veterinary offices and boarding kennels that could take your pet in an emergency, as well as the nearest animal shelter.
- Be prepared to evacuate sooner rather than later to secure lodging for you and your pet before hotels, motels and other facilities fill up. If you wait until the last minute to leave your home, there’s a chance emergency evacuation personnel will require you to leave your pet behind.
- Arrange with a trusted neighbor, friend or family member to evacuate your pet for you in the event you’re not home when disaster strikes. That person will need a key or other means of access to your home, an idea of where to find your pet once inside, and he or she should also be comfortable handling your animal. Agree ahead of time on a location where you can meet to retrieve your pet, or arrange for the person to provide temporary shelter.
If you live in an apartment or other multi-family dwelling, make sure the people responsible for the security of your building know there is a pet in your unit.
Disaster Supply Checklist for Pets
The following list of items is provided by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and is included in their Disaster Preparedness for Pets brochure.
- Medications and medical records stored in a waterproof container and a first aid kit. A pet first aid book also is good to include.
- Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and carriers to transport pets safely and to ensure that your pets can’t escape. Carriers should be large enough for the animal to stand comfortably, turn around, and lie down. Your pet may have to stay in the carrier for hours at a time while you have taken shelter away from home. Be sure to have a secure cage with no loose objects inside it to accommodate smaller pets. These may require blankets or towels for bedding and warmth, and other special items.
- Current photos and descriptions of your pets to help others identify them in case you and your pets become separated and to prove that they are yours.
- Food and water for at least three days for each pet, bowls, cat litter and litter box, and a manual can opener.
- Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to board your pets or place them in foster care.
- Pet beds and toys, if you can easily take them, to reduce stress.
- Other useful items include newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags, grooming items, and household bleach.
All the items in your kit should be kept in a sturdy container that is easily accessible, easy to carry, and is ready to go at a moment’s notice.
In the Aftermath
Depending on what type of emergency you and your pet have survived, your dog, cat or other animal may need some extra care and attention in the days and weeks following the event.
If you’re returning home to significant damage and disorder after a tornado or flood, don’t let your pets wander loose. There might be dangers lurking in this new environment, and your pet could also become disoriented or lost.
Be prepared for possible behavioral problems with your pet as you both adjust to a “new normal.” Animals can acquire stress-related conditions just like people do, including a type of post traumatic stress disorder.
If your pet is behaving differently after an evacuation or other emergency, be patient with him. If the problem doesn’t subside with time, a return to routine and some extra loving attention on your part, consult your veterinarian.
Disaster Preparedness Resources
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has produced an excellent tool for detailed planning for both large and small animals in the event of a disaster. Download the AVMA’s Saving the Whole Family planning booklet.
Visit ASPCA.org for additional tools and materials for disaster planning, including Rescue Alert stickers, a pet first-aid kit, and suggestions for items to include in a pet evac-pac.