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Evacuating with Your Dog: What You Need to Know

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Does a hurricane, flood or other natural disaster have you worried about evacuating with your dog?

Evacuating with your dog

Preparing for the Storm

“Better safe than sorry.” Yes, you’ve heard it a million times but, when it comes to the safety of your pets, it’s worth a few minutes spent planning for their safety in the event of an emergency.

The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) recommends these steps in planning for an approaching storm:

  • Complete pet identification forms for each animal in the household.
  • Familiarize yourself with city, county and state emergency plans.
  • Crate pets before they are able to sense danger, to prevent them retreating to challenging hiding places.
  • Attach alert stickers to your windows and doors to show rescue workers that there are pets in the home that need rescuing.

NOTE: ASPCA has free stickers you can order to identify the number and type of pets you have in your home. (If you evacuate and have time, write EVACUATED across the stickers so searchers will know your home does not contain pets that need rescue.)

  • Plan several evacuation routes with your pets in case a route is blocked.
  • Provide plenty of comfort and attention to pets after the emergency has passed.
  • Have an emergency supply kit for your pet, including a pet identification form with photos, microchip number, shot records, food, water, veterinarian and emergency contact information (including one contact outside of the emergency area,) first aid supplies, and a three-week supply of medications. Keep the emergency kit in a sealed, waterproof bag or container.
  • Purchase simple identification tags for each pet; however, since even the best collars can slip off, NAPPS recommends considering a microchip as a backup.

Preparing an Evacuation Kit for Your Dog

VCA veterinarian Donna J. Spector has assembled a packing list of items you should consider for your pet’s emergency evacuation kit, many which you’ll already have on hand. Toss them in a bag that’s easy to find in an emergency and you’ll have made an important first step in keeping your dog safe in case of a hurricane, tornado, flood, wildfire, or other natural disaster!

  • Leash
  • Collapsible water/food bowl
  • Canned dog/cat food
  • Pet toy
  • Pet blanket
  • Cloth towel
  • Basic roll of bandaging material
  • All-purpose nail clipper
  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Doggy bags (can also be used for cat litter clean-up)
  • Disposable latex Gloves
  • Emergency ice/heat pack
  • Camera to take current photos of your pet and include in the kit
  • Folder with list of types of vaccination records & medical history to get from vet

Here’s a quick look at the most important steps in an evacuation, courtesy of Petfinder:

Practicing Evacuation

Last Chance for Animalsurges pet parents to practice evacuations. “Know your evacuation routes out of town and have multiple routes lined up. Practice an evacuation ahead of time. Get to know how long it takes you to gather everyone. Get your pets used to this so when the real deal happens they will be a lot less stressed and a lot more manageable.

Evacuating Your Dog If You’re Not Home

What if you’re not home–but your pets are during an evacuation? We’ve heard cases of people traveling with their dogs under the care of a pet sitter who may or may not be able to get to the pets and evacuated them.

Dr. Spector recommends:

  • Place stickers on your doors to notify emergency workers or neighbors where on your property your animals are located and where to find your emergency pet kit, just in case you aren’t home when a disaster strikes.
  • Make sure to include a pre-signed medical treatment authorization in your kit. Include your VCA veterinarian’s name, clinic name and address and the information for a local emergency clinic. This will aid rescuers if you’ve become separated from your pet and it must be treated.

A medical treatment authorization, like those you sign at a kennel when you board a dog, gives your authorization for emergency vet treatment. To see some sample forms you can use as a model, search online for “veterinary treatment authorization form” and create your own form (don’t forget to sign it!) to add to your emergency kit.

Where Should You Go in an Evacuation?

Remember, in an evacuation or emergency, you’re not going to have time to get online to find hotels or kennels that might be able to assist you so it’s important to spend an hour while the sun is shining and make those plans!

First, remember that you won’t just be leaving your home, you’ll be leaving your community. You won’t be able to board your dog at a local kennel; you’ll need to travel outside the evacuation zone and may find kennels full for miles. Prepare a list of kennels (regular boarding kennels, veterinary offices with kennel service, etc.) before a disaster.

Search for hotels that will accept pets. Remember that restrictions (such as breed restrictions) may be relaxed in time of disaster. Find out the per room limitations; these, too, are often relaxed in emergency situations. Would you need to rent two rooms? Make a plan.

Your local emergency management office may also have resources, such as lists of pet-friendly hotels, kennels, and shelters. Check with your city to see if they have a list that you can add to your emergency evacuation bag. Also, ask your vet for recommendations in the area where you would probably go in an evacuation. Also, a growing number of evacuation shelters welcome pets; call to see if your pets would be accommodated at an evacuation shelter.

Ask friends and family for their help as well. Do you have relatives or friends (or friends of relatives!) in an area where you will be evacuating? Keep a list of phone numbers and addresses in your evacuation bag.

Hopefully you may never need those lists but, in time of emergency, it definitely pays to have done your homework. Most importantly, NEVER leave your pets in a disaster. Even if you haven’t figured out all the details beforehand, you can seek assistance after your evacuate with your four-legged family members safely with you.

While You Are Evacuated

Once you do pack up and leave, be sure to let friends and family know where you are going. As mentioned earlier, if you have stickers identifying how many pets you have in your home, write “EVACUATED” across the sticker so that rescuers won’t waste time searching your home for pets.

Last Chance for Animals reminds pet parents that, “In an emergency situation, your pet is likely to be scared and nervous. Treat them like you would a small child as they are totally dependent upon you for their survival. Provide them with lots of attention, including soothing, reassuring words. Know how to read your pet’s non-verbal communication as some pets may wish to hide and be left alone, while others may be clingy and want to be by your side at all times.”

We have an entire article on evacuating in a hotel–and how to keep your dog exercised when the rain will not stop–here on DogTipper based on our own evacuation experiences during Hurricane Harvey.

Returning Home After the Storm

When returning home with pets following a disaster, the AVMA recommends the following:

  • Survey the area inside and outside your home to identify sharp objects, dangerous materials, dangerous wildlife, contaminated water, downed power lines or other hazards.
  • Do not allow pets to roam free outdoors until the area is safe for them to do so. They could encounter dangerous wildlife and debris if allowed outside unsupervised and unrestrained. In addition, familiar scents and landmarks may have changed, and this can confuse your pets.
  • Allow uninterrupted rest and sleep to allow your pets to recover from the trauma and stress of the evacuation and disaster.
  • The disruption of routine activities can be the biggest cause of stress for your pets, so try to re-establish a normal schedule as quickly as you can.
  • Comfort each other. The simple act of petting and snuggling can reduce anxiety for both people and pets.
  • If you notice any signs of stress, discomfort, or illness in your pets, contact your veterinarian to schedule a checkup.

For more information on pets and disasters, visit the AVMA website at avma.org/PetReady.

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