By Carol J. Donaldson
A well thought out and practiced disaster plan may be all that stands between your animals and death.
Hundreds of animals die each year during disasters. Animals have a small chance of survival when faced with flooding, fire or mudslides and their survival margin drops even more when left tied; crated; stalled or fenced.
The need to evacuate your premises may happen at any time. In many cases you only have an hour or less to get out and it may be a week or better before you return home. Do not leave your animals behind, do not leave them in cages or tied up. If you leave your animals you may come home to find they died due to starvation, lack of water or worse burning to death or suffocation.
As their caretaker, you are responsible for their lives. Your responsibility is to know what you need to evacuate; learn the roads in your area as these are your evacuation routes; location of safe areas; which organizations will allow pets in their shelters (the shelters that do accept pets may not accept all pets, such as reptiles and rodents), which hotels accept pets; where to take livestock (fairgrounds or designed area); practice crating your cat or dog (feeding them dinner in the crate may make it easier to load them). Practice hitching and towing your trailer, then practice loading your livestock.
Practice, practice, practice your evacuation drills with your animals. Evacuating is stressful to them and they look to you for reassurance. The more you practice the easier it is on both you and the animals when you have to evacuate.
Pets and livestock/poultry all require the same basic things; a method to control them (leashes, collars, halters, leads); a safe place to keep them; food and water for a minimum of a week; medications; proof of ownership (photos and papers); vet records; identification tags on the animals and a method to transport them (crates). You also need cash and a full tank of gas.
Cats should have identification tags, break away collars and harnesses; litter; litter boxes; and a crate. For safety and to prevent escape in cars, crate your cat (small dogs too). Only transfer cats from their carrying cage to a larger cage behind closed doors, even the friendliest cat can be terrified and try to escape. Dogs should be in crates or on a leash.
Bird cages need to be covered with a blanket for drafts; uncovered when hot, reptiles also have difficulty with the cold temperatures and must be in cages. Make sure you bring what they need for their care.
It's your responsibility to feed and clean up after your animals while at evacuation shelter or someone's home.
Make a mutual agreement with friends who live outside your community that when a disaster occurs they will shelter your pets and livestock. If there is a fire or flood danger it is wisest to remove your animals early, prior to the evacuation order. Better to be inconvenience for a few days then regret you did not get them out. If you are notified during the night or have to get out immediately - load your animals in secure cages (if possible) or trailers, take what food you can. Grab your papers and leashes or rope and go.