Training Humans invites you to read on, and thanks Jay for taking the time to keep us all informed. We ask you to read it and pass it on.
“If found, please call…”
The worn leather collar was cracked and caked with mud and the brass tag bolted on to it was scratched and faded. For a split second, I thought, “We should call…”
And then I realized that this collar, this dog, had passed through multiple rescue agencies, been handled by dozens of people in multiple states, and had travelled hundreds of miles to land in my hands. I wasn’t the first to have this thought. And I wasn’t the first to realize there was no person to call. There probably wasn’t even a home left for him, let alone a phone that would be answered.
This worn-out hound, and his three pack mates along with the ten other dogs and fifteen cats my shelter had brought back in our mobile surgical van, had been left behind when his owners fled the wrath we would all later know as Katrina.
I had been working at the shelter first as a volunteer and then as a part-time kennel staffer and trainer for a few years when Katrina rolled through and changed how I viewed disaster and preparedness. I, like many other pet owners, had always said, “Over my dead body will my pets be left behind,” but I said it from the privileged position of living in an area where natural disasters are few and far between. Katrina, and her aftermath, made me rethink my actions and what I would do if I were challenged with having to leave my home in the face of a life-changing event.
As I write this, I can look down into my emergency bag. It is woefully out-of-date and needs to be restocked. The recent tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri and the reports from American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) regarding animal rescue efforts in those areas have made me all too aware that I should be prepared. But Delaware is a state of few extremes when it comes to weather and I become complacent and think, “It won’t happen here,” and go my merry way.
However, emergency situations need not necessarily be catastrophic events such as tornadoes or hurricanes. A fire at the neighbor’s house, a gas leak, a tree through your roof – all of those situations may require you to leave your home quickly with little time to prepare or gather what you need. We all know to grab our valuables and our wallets, but what about our pets? Would you be prepared to feed and, if applicable, medicate your animal if you had to evacuate your home with your animal in under 10 minutes?
The ASPCA and HSUS offer some simple steps we all can take in emergency situations to ensure we evacuate with our pets and anything your pet needs to survive, including food, clean water, and any medication it may be taking:
- Plan ahead. Consider the possible situations you may encounter that could leave your pet unattended (an emergency trip to the hospital; icy winter roads that prevent you from getting home; road emergencies that leave you stuck in traffic; extended power outages while you are at work) and make contingency plans. No one can plan for these, so find a trusted neighbor to whom you can give a key and instruct them on your pets’ habits/behaviors so that in the event of an unforeseen emergency, you have a caregiver.
- Create a disaster supply kit/checklist. Your kit may vary, depending on the types of pets (and how many) you have in your home. Here’s a basic one to get your started:
- Food and water for at least five days for each pet, including bowls and a manual can opener (if applicable). Remember to rotate the food out of your bag when it is not in use (check the dates on canned food and dispose of dry food every two months).
- Medications and medical records stored in a waterproof container and a first-aid kit. While full detailed medical records may be too voluminous to carry, always have your pets' up-to-date vaccination records. A note pertaining to any specific medical conditions and medication is also advisable. Note that many human first-aid medicines can be used on pets, but speak to your veterinarian about your first-aid kit. Include a two-week supply of any medications your pet(s) may be taking in the kit.
- Cat litter box, litter box, garbage bags to collect all waste, and litter scoop. Aluminum roasting pans are a good alternative to heavy plastic litter pans.
- Dawn dish detergent (in the event your pet is exposed to oil, grease, or contaminants) and disinfectant.
- Strong leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and to ensure your pets cannot escape. The carriers should be large enough for the animal to stand comfortably, turn around, and lie down as they may be contained for long periods of time. Bring blankets and towels if at all possible--they can be used to cover carriers to help calm down a stressed-out animal. Tie-down stakes for dogs are also recommended, as this will enable you to give them exercise and keep them under a close eye.
- 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.
- Pet beds and toys, if you can easily take them, to reduce stress.
- Information about your pets' feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavioral problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to board your pets or place them in foster care.
- NOTE: There are special considerations to be made for birds, reptiles, and small animals. Talk with your veterinarian or visit the ASPCA's website for their discussion of special considerations regarding these kinds of pets. Some of the suggested items in the kit list, such as litter boxes and pet beds, are too cumbersome to carry with you in the event of a catastrophic emergency. Be realistic and do your best to keep a backpack filled with the basic necessities and be ready to get out, with your pet(s), fast.
- Find a safe place to stay. Talk to your friends and family and make arrangements for where you might stay in the event of an emergency. While federal law has changed and many shelters are now permitted to allow people to bring their animals into the shelters with them in the event of an emergency not all of them will do so. The HSUS recommends finding a pet-friendly hotel in your area that you can use as a Plan B option and provides the following websites to help you in that search:
- Make sure your pet is wearing identification. Microchipping and up-to-date identification tags are key to helping your pet return home to you in the event you are separated during an evacuation. If your pet is not currently microchipped, contact your local animal shelter – many provide low-cost microchipping and assist in the registration process.
- Most important, TAKE YOUR PET WITH YOU.
The single most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to take them with you when you evacuate. Animals left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost or killed. Animals left inside your home can escape through storm-damaged areas, such as broken windows. Animals turned loose to fend for themselves are likely to become victims of exposure, starvation, predators, contaminated food or water, or accidents. Leaving dogs tied or chained outside in a disaster is a death sentence.
--Humane Society of the United States
Of the fourteen dogs that came through the door of our shelter in the months after Hurricane Katrina, seven were returned to their owners and the rest were adopted by families in the Delaware Valley. They were but a small fraction of the animals that were rescued and reunited with their families or rehomed through the amazing efforts of hundreds of rescue organizations around the country. That number is but a small fraction of those who were left behind to die either during or after the storm.
In the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, there is a monument to the animals lost to Katrina – it sits off in a far corner in a quiet green field that begs for a game of catch or a warm roll in the grass. It is a beautiful place and a fitting reminder that no one, neither human nor animal, should ever be left behind.
Jay Cook-Attig is a former member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She served for several years as a trainer at a no-kill animal shelter in the Delaware Valley and was the owner of The Celtic Dog, LLC, specializing in training dogs at risk of being surrendered to shelters.
Sources: The Humane Society of the United States “Disaster Preparedness for Pets” (www.hsus.org)
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals “Disaster Preparedness” (www.aspca.org)