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Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Demand Rescue for Pets

pet rescue

Story at-a-glance -

  • Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left countless animals lost or abandoned, and hundreds of rescues have already taken place
  • It’s unlikely that your pet will be able to survive without you for long, which is why rule No. 1 in an emergency is: if you’re evacuating your home, take your pets with you
  • Minimally, know where you’ll go with your pets if you have to evacuate and have a pet emergency kit with pet food, water, safety harness, identification and leash, medications and first-aid supplies ready

By Dr. Becker

After Hurricane Harvey swept through Texas, causing catastrophic flooding, the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) reported "scores of abandoned, orphaned, and injured animals" had been seen in the area.1 In Palm Beach County, Florida, meanwhile, animal control officers found more than 50 animals that had been left tethered to trees or outside in cages while Hurricane Irma approached.

In the latter case, 49 dogs and two cats were rescued prior to the storm, and state Attorney General Dave Aronberg said criminal charges of animal cruelty would be pressed against anyone who left their pets outside to face Hurricane Irma.2 While some people intentionally leave their animals in harm’s way, others leave them behind when they, themselves, are forced to evacuate.

In Barbuda, which was hard-hit by Irma, residents were evacuated from the island and could not bring their dogs, cats, horses or livestock with them. Others may assume they’ll be able to go back for their pets, but animals may starve, drown or become fatally injured before their owners return. It’s unlikely that your pet will be able to survive without you for long, which is why rule No. 1 in an emergency is: if you’re evacuating your home, take your pets with you.

In Houston, more than 600 animals have already been re-located to shelters around the U.S. to make room for the influx of thousands of pets lost, abandoned or relinquished due to Hurricane Harvey.3 If you’d like to help animals in need due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, contact your local animal shelters and rescue organizations to see what they need most.

US Officials Encourage Residents: ‘Do Not Leave Your Pets Behind’

As Hurricane Irma approached Florida, Governor Rick Scott encouraged hotels to waive pet prohibitions so owners evacuating the storm could bring their pets with them.4 Many shelters also accommodated pets along with their owners. In order to get out quickly if a natural disaster such as a hurricane is approaching, having a disaster preparedness and evacuation plan is essential — and make sure it includes your pets.

This means you’ll need to be ready ahead of time with a pet emergency kit and a plan. In the latter case, now, before a disaster occurs, know where you’ll go. Seek out animal-friendly public shelters or speak with friends or family outside of your immediate area who you and your pets could stay with if necessary. You can also keep a list of pet-friendly hotels in case you can't find a shelter that accepts animals.

It’s a good idea also to place a rescue alert sticker near your front door. It lists how many, and what type, of pets are in the home, along with your contact information, so rescuers know who to look for. When you evacuate with your pets, write “Evacuated” across the sticker so rescue workers know you’re all accounted for.

For the emergency kit, use a portable waterproof container and be sure it has the essentials: pet food, a safety harness with tags and leash, water, medications, first-aid supplies, medical records and proof of ownership (you may want to take a photo of yourself with your dog for identification purposes in case you get separated).

If your pet has a microchip, be sure the information connected to it (including your address and phone number) is kept current. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also recommends including the following in your kit:5

Pet first-aid kit

Three to seven days' worth of canned (pop-top) or freeze-dried food (be sure to rotate every two months)

Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)

Litter or paper toweling

Liquid dish soap and disinfectant

Disposable garbage bags for clean-up

Pet feeding dishes

Extra collar or harness as well as an extra leash

Photocopies (or a thumb drive) of medical records and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires

Bottled water, at least seven days' worth for each person and pet

A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet


Blanket (for scooping up a fearful pet)

Recent photos of your pets (in case you are separated and need to make "Lost" posters)

Especially for cats: Pillowcase or EvackSack, toys, scoopable litter

Especially for dogs: Extra leash, toys and chew toys, a week's worth of cage liner

How to Care for Your Pet During a Hurricane

If for some reason you can’t evacuate and must ride out the storm, designate a safe location to act as your hurricane shelter — one where your pets can stay with you. A windowless room nearest to ground floor is best, and keep a crate in the area for each of your pets.

Practice retreating to your shelter spot so you can move there quickly in an emergency and your pet will be used to the routine. Keep your pet emergency kit in the safe area as well, and fill up your bathtubs and sinks with water so fresh water is available.

When the storm arrives, retreat to your safe area and put your pets in their crates. If possible, place the crates under heavy furniture for added safety. After the hurricane, keep your pets secured (dogs on a leash and cats in a carrier) and stay away from water and debris. Likewise, if you live in an area prone to flooding, be sure you know where your pets hide so you can find them quickly.

Practice regular "flood drills" by moving to the upper floor or attic of your home. If the flooding is severe, you should plan to move onto your roof until help arrives. Keep your pets on a lease or in crates so they are safely contained. After a flood, stay inside until the water recedes and stay away from debris, flood waters and downed power lines.

Remember, too, that your pet is depending on you not just for safety and shelter but also for emotional support. A comfort toy or blanket can go a long way toward helping your pet feel safe, as can some reassurance from you.

American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) president Michael Topper told USA Today, "In general, pets do alright if they are with their owners. But they are going to be stressed if they see that you are stressed."6 In extreme cases, if you believe your pet was traumatized by the disaster and the resulting behavioral changes don’t seem to be resolving, talk to your veterinarian to see if he may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).