It's been a dangerous spring and summer. Storms have pummelled the southern and midwestern states. And in late April, the most dangerous tornadoes to hit the U.S. struck states such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri. The storms and flooding haven't let up: from Joplin, MO, toMinot, N.D., to yesterday's freak earthquake in central Virginia that shook states both north and south of the epicenter. In the Atlantic,Hurricane Irene appears to be headed toward the Carolinas.
It's enough to make anyone nervous about the safety of family and pets, especially in the more vulnerable regions.
How to weather the storm
The good news is that you aren’t powerless, and you aren’t alone. “A person who plans for disaster is going to be far more able to safeguard herself and her animal companions,” says Sara Varsa, director of operations for the Animal Rescue Team. “Don’t let the tragedies of this spring paralyze you—be motivated by them to create a comprehensive plan for taking care of yourself and your pets.”
Start with the basics
There are things you can do to get ready for natural disasters with pets, horses, and farm animals in mind. If you’re a pet owner, start with the basics:
-- Prepare a plan (even for everyday emergencies), including identifying a place to stay that will accept your pets
-- Develop a checklist for all your pets’ supplies and medical information
-- Identify a friend, neighbor, or family member who can take care of your pet if you are away
You CAN take your pets
The federal government now officially supports including pets in disaster plans. In 2000 The HSUS and FEMA signed an historic partnership agreement to encourage and assist people who want to safeguard their pets in a natural disaster. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate puts it plainly: “Animals are important members of millions of families across this country—and as such they should also be included in our family emergency plans.” With this video, FEMA designated May 8, 2010, National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day.
Since FEMA came on board, it’s become easier to find a shelter that will accept your pets. But don’t assume any shelter you go to will allow you to keep your dog or cat with you, cautions Varsa. “Before disaster hits, reach out to local officials—work with them to confirm that you will be allowed to evacuate with your pets and that cohabitated shelters [ones that take people and their pets] will be available in your area.”
If you stay put, stay safe
When you're advised to evacuate, pack up your pets and supplies, and go. But in situations when sitting out the disaster is the best (or only) option, plan to have on hand all thesupplies you'll need for your pets. Then follow these safety guidelines:
-- Bring your pets indoors as soon as local authorities say there is an imminent problem. Keep pets under your direct control; you won't have to spend time trying to find them if you must evacuate. Make sure they are wearing collars and tags, and keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers.
-- If you have a room you can designate as a "safe room," put your emergency supplies in that room in advance, including your pet's crate and supplies. If there is an open fireplace, vent, pet door, or similar opening in the house, close it off with plastic sheeting and strong tape.
-- Listen to the radio periodically, and don't come out until you know it's safe.
Keep your pet safe when you're not home
The best way to keep your pets safe when you can't be with them is to plan ahead:
-- Find a trusted neighbor and give them a key to your house or barn. Make sure this person is comfortable and familiar with your pets.
- -- Make sure the neighbor knows your pets' whereabouts and habits, so they won't have to waste precious time trying to find or catch them.
- -- Create a pet emergency/disaster kit and place it in a prominent place where your neighbor can find it.
- -- If the emergency involves evacuation, make sure the neighbor would be willing to take your pets and has access to the appropriate carriers and leashes. Plan to meet at a prearranged location.
- -- If you use a pet sitting service, they may be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.
Make your plan now
The HSUS has not only been at the forefront of working with government agencies to make sure that animals aren’t left to fend for themselves, but “we’ve also developed a highly trained team that can be deployed to offer animal rescue and sheltering services in the wake of disasters,” says Varsa. “While our rescue team stands at the ready to offer disaster-response aid, I advise everyone to be proactive and make their own preparedness plans. That’s the best way to look after the animals in your care. It will help you sleep easier—and be able to offer help to those who are less fortunate than you are."