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disaster plan

The recent proliferation of natural disasters made one thing very clear to me: my family needed a disaster plan in place for our dogs.

In September 2017, my spouse spent Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean with one of our dogs. When Irma went from a Category 3 to a Category 5 overnight, she was unable to evacuate, as the last flights off the island were cancelled. Expecting the worst, she packed up all the supplies she and the dog would need in case the island suffered catastrophic damage. The pair went to a hurricane shelter and prepared to hunker down. Irma largely spared the island she was on, unlike nearby Barbuda and Anguilla, but it was a very close call.

From fires and floods to hurricanes and earthquakes, the worst can and does happen to dog owners all over the country. Just like you should have a plan in place for the humans in your family, you also need a disaster plan for your dog.

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Step One: Assess Your Risks

It is impossible to be prepared for everything, but knowing which natural disasters are most likely to affect your area can help you plan ahead for as many of them as possible, whether it’s wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, landslides, or heat waves. This will help you determine what supplies to keep on hand.

Step Two: Prepare Your First Aid Kit

Every emergency situation requires a first aid kit. This kit should include medical supplies, extra food and water, and anything else you may need to care for an injured dog. The AKC provides a useful canine first aid kit guide to help you build your own.

Step Three: Evacuation Checklist

Evacuations are stressful. You may have to leave behind valued possessions, and you will often have very little time to decide what to take. The last thing you want to worry about is what your dog will need.

Put together an evacuation checklist ahead of time that covers the essentials. Make sure you and anyone who regularly watches your pet knows where to find your dog’s food, medications, medical records, leash, and crate.

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Step Four: Evacuation Destination

If you have to leave your home, dogs complicate things. Not all shelters or hotels accept pets, and it may be harder to find friends and relatives who are willing to open their home to both you and your dogs.

It is up to you to come up with a list of possible safe havens before disaster strikes. Look up which hotel chains are pet friendly. Determine which friends or relatives would be willing to house you for a few days if necessary. Most importantly, consider crate training your dog. Crate-trained dogs can be accommodated more easily than uncrated dogs, and your pup will also be more comfortable if he is used to spending time in a crate.

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Step Five: Stay Up-to-Date on Vaccines and Microchip Information

Nothing shuts doors faster than failure to provide proof of vaccination records, especially for dangerous diseases. Keeping your pet up-to-date on his vaccines will protect him from diseases such as rabies, distemper, or leptospirosis, and he’ll have a better chance of being allowed into disaster relief shelters and kennels. In addition, if you and your pet become separated, dogs with microchips are much more likely to be returned with their owner.

Getting your dog microchipped is just the first step. You also need to register the microchip with an up-to-date phone number so that shelters and veterinary hospitals can reach you if your dog is found. You can even look into a collar with GPS technology for added peace of mind.

Step Six: Travel Preparations

If you live in the Midwest, you probably don’t worry about hurricanes that often. However, if you are traveling with a dog, you may be faced with a disaster you’re not prepared for, as vacationers to Florida and the Caribbean discovered when Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit in 2017 within weeks of each other.

If you regularly travel with your dog, you will need a disaster plan that travels with you. This means packing, at the very least, a canine first aid kit, veterinary paperwork, extra food and water, contact information for your veterinarian, and a travel crate. That way, you won’t be caught unprepared if your vacation does not go according to plan.

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Additional Steps

After completing steps one through six, make sure the rest of your family knows the details. Evacuation plans can vary greatly between different types of owners. For instance, if you own a breeding or sporting kennel, evacuating your dogs will prove to be a bigger operation. You will have to arrange for transportation of multiple dogs and make sure you have enough food for all of them, as well as any additional supplies needed for litters or females in estrus.

Your dog’s personality also plays a role. Not all dogs get along well with others. If you know that your dog will have trouble in a crowded environment, make sure you pack a crate and perhaps even a muzzle for his protection. If it is cool in your location, you may even be able to place a blanket or towel over part of his crate to give him some privacy.

Medications can also pose complications. You’ll need a cooler and ice on hand for meds that need to be refrigerated in case you lose power. Talk with your veterinarian about steps you can take to preserve the integrity of your dog’s medication, and what to do if it loses potency.

Once you’ve established a plan, you should practice as much of it as possible. If you have a tornado shelter in your yard, get your dog used to climbing in and out of it. If you think your dog may need to be muzzled during an emergency, you can test putting the muzzle on with positive reinforcement so that the action does not add stress to an already stressful situation. Most importantly, basic obedience will help ensure that your dog stays safe, while also allowing you to focus on keeping your family together.

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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($9.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.
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