When you're in the path of a hurricane, you pack up what you need and get out as quickly as you can to get out of harm's way. But do your evacuation plans include everything you need for keeping your pets safe too?
"It is crucial that residents are prepared to keep their pets inside if they are able to stay at home or to take pets with them if asked to evacuate in the face of this potentially destructive storm," said Niki Dawson, director of disaster services for The Humane Society of the United States, in a statement. "If it isn't safe for you, it isn't safe for your pets."
National Guardsmen patrol near Vidor, Texas, rescuing people and pets trapped after Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: California National Guard/Flickr)
One of the most important things is knowing where you can find shelter with your pets.
During the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many rescuers and shelters refused to take animals, so many people either refused to evacuate without their pets or were forced to leave their pets behind. Dogs and cats were left to starve or die of dehydration or countless pets were sent to shelters, never to be reunited again with their families.
In response, the Pet Evacuation Transportation Standards (PETS) Act of 2006 was created to make sure state and local governments factor pets into emergency evacuation plans. It authorizes the use of funds for rescue workers including "the procurement, construction, leasing, or renovating of emergency shelter facilities and materials that will accommodate people with pets and service animals.''
The PETS Act is critical during an emergency, such as a hurricane, but can be misunderstood. There are posts circulating on social media, for example, insisting that all hotels, motels and shelters are required to accept pets during a hurricane.
The law mandates that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) take into account the needs of pet owners when developing disaster plans and setting up emergency shelters. It does not mention hotels and motels.
In most cases, this means there will be pet-friendly shelters. It doesn't mean hotels and motels are required to accept pets if they weren't pet-friendly before the storm. Many hotels and motels sometimes lift "no pet" restrictions in emergencies, but it's smart to call ahead and ask.
Create an emergency kit for the road
Pet owners should have an emergency supply kit for their pets. Keep all records in a waterproof container. According to the Humane Society, this kit should include:
- At least three days of food and water in airtight, waterproof containers
- Bowls for food and water
- Current photos and physical descriptions of your pets
- Veterinary records, medications and first aid supplies
- Comfort items like toys and blankets
- For dogs: Leash, harness, pet waste bags and a pet carrier that can double as a sleeping area
- For cats: Litter, litter box and a carrier
Other key emergency plans
Preparation is critical for any disaster. Taking these steps can make a big difference when you're trying to get you and your pet to safety.
ID your pet. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar and an up-to-date identification tag with your cellphone number and maybe even the number of a friend or relative outside of the area. Make sure your pet is microchipped and the registration is in your name.
Create an emergency contact list. Start with friends or family members who live nearby and can reach you or your pets quickly. Make sure they have keys, necessary codes or other information to access your home, grab the pets and evacuate.
Invest in sturdy pet carriers. Whether your pet goes to a relative or an emergency shelter, the animal will need a safe place to stay, says Toni McNulty, team lead for animals in disaster with HumanityRoad.org, a nonprofit organization that uses social media to fill the communications gap between those affected by disaster and those responding to disaster.
Try a pet carrier that's large enough to hold food and water bowls and allows your pet to stand and turn around. Also, make sure it's comfortable as your pet will likely be inside it for hours at a time during an emergency.
"Get it ahead of time and let your pet get used to it. Mark with contact information. If your pet winds up in an emergency shelter, that contact information is necessary," McNulty says.
Carry photos that show you with your pet. To alleviate any confusion when it's time to recover your pet from an emergency facility, be sure to carry photos that show you and your pet together. Attach those photos as proof of ownership on your pet's crate. It's also a good idea to make sure you have photos uploaded to the cloud, in case physical copies are lost.
Don't wait for the second or third evacuation warning. If you live in an area that's known for weather emergencies, act as soon as you hear a warning.
"When pets sense urgency, they hide and you lose valuable time trying to find them," McNulty says. Keep leashes, collars and crates ready at a moment's notice.