Tornados, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes – emergencies strike out of the blue. Evacuating your home is often necessary for safety reasons. The last thing you want to do is leave your dog behind in the danger zone. But emergencies can be highly stressful, and without careful planning, you may find yourself in a panic with no clue about what to do.
Creating an emergency evacuation plan will help you handle any unexpected disaster calmly and safely. Pet disaster preparedness means incorporating your dog and other pets into your evacuation plan so you’re prepared to meet their needs and keep them free from harm.
Understand the Pets Act
You have a legal right to include your pets in an evacuation thanks to the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (also known as the Pets Act), a bipartisan initiative that resulted in significant changes to federal and state emergency planning laws after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Pets Act requires states seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to accommodate service animals and pets in their evacuation plans in the case of a disaster.
As a result, there are now many federal and state laws that include specifications for the evacuation, rescue, and recovery of animals as well as provisions for sheltering, identification, and tracking.
Create Your Own Emergency Evacuation Plan
Although over 30 states have laws addressing animals in evacuation planning, you can’t skip developing your own household evacuation plans. Follow the instructions of local authorities in the moment but be prepared with what you need and where to go. You should be able to leave your home at a moment’s notice with your family and pets accounted for.
Being prepared will help you think clearly and keep you calm during a crisis. This is important because your dog can sense your emotions. If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, pet disaster preparedness will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet’s anxiety too.
It’s not enough to leave dogs in a safe place to fend for themselves during an emergency. They can get lost, injured, or worse. Evacuating together can save your dog’s life. Otherwise, you put yourself and first responders in danger as attempts are made to save your pet.
Remember that you might not be home when disaster strikes. Plan for being away from your pets and/or being unable to get to them. Consider making arrangements with someone who can get to your dog when you can’t like a neighbor, dog walker, pet sitter, or local doggy daycare.
Also, place a rescue alert sticker at your front door to let people know there are pets inside your house. Be sure it includes the types and number of pets you own as well as your veterinarian’s phone number. If you are able to take your pets with you during an evacuation, please write “Evacuated” across the sticker if time allows so rescue workers don’t waste precious time at your home.
Prepare Your Dog for Disaster
Make sure your dog is ready for anything. First, keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date in case your dog must stay at a shelter during an evacuation. Second, microchip your dog. A microchip allows veterinarians and shelter workers to scan your pet and access your contact information. It could be essential to be reunited with your dog if you get separated. Keep your dog’s microchip registration up to date with your most recent phone number and address. But don’t forget the low-tech option too. Your dog should be wearing a collar with up-to-date identification tags. Finally, have copies of all your dog’s important documents. Consider including:
- vaccination certificates and most recent heartworm test results.
- information about any health concerns, medications, or behavior problems.
- contact information for your veterinarian.
- identification information including proof of ownership and a current photo of you with your dog in case your dog gets lost.
You also need to have your dog’s travel equipment at hand, preferably in an uncluttered area near your door. You should have a leash ready to go as well as equipment for safe car travel such as a harness and pet seat belt strap.
Also, consider buying a pet carrier for each of your dogs. You can use the carrier for transport but also as a safe place for your dog to rest during stops or at your final destination. Make sure to write your dog’s name and your contact information on the carrier. Ensure your dog is comfortable in the carrier ahead of time by feeding treats and meals in the carrier and taking practice drives.
Assemble a Go Bag for Your Dog
A pet disaster preparedness kit should include everything your dog will need in an emergency evacuation. Consider your dog’s basic needs, safety, and any medical issues. Keep it in an easy-to-carry waterproof container and store it where you can easily get to it. Your dog’s go-bag should include items such as:
- bottled drinking water (during an emergency, tap water can be contaminated).
- food in waterproof containers or cans. (Choose pop-top tins or pack a can opener.) Bring enough for at least two weeks.
- food and water bowls.
- prescription medications and other required health supplies such as tick medication and heartworm preventative.
- a dog first aid kit.
- poop bags and other clean-up supplies.
- familiar items like toys, bedding, and blankets to comfort your dog.
- stress-relieving items like an anxiety vest or calming sprays if your dog is prone to anxiety.
Know Where to Take Your Pet
Don’t assume your dog can remain with you wherever you end up during an evacuation—research local shelters to determine if they allow dogs. Many only allow service animals for public health reasons. If your dog can’t stay with you at a shelter, look into pet-friendly hotels, boarding kennels, and animal shelters for somewhere that will keep your pet safe until you can return home. Don’t forget to talk to family or friends outside the evacuation area. They might be willing to house your pet during an emergency.