Tornados, floods, fires and hurricanes, oh my! We don’t expect them, but they do happen. Nature can strike fast and furiously. The Atlantic Hurricane Season is almost here. It runs from June 1 until November 30. This week (May 24-30) is National Hurricane Preparedness Week. Please take a moment to mark this on your calendar. This week is a time of the year that we all need to make note of every year, especially if you have a family, and one that includes animal companions. Planning and preparing will save your family a load of stress, and could even save lives. Officials advise to not wait until a storm is already in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean to gather supplies and make a plan for your family – pets and people. The start of the hurricane season is the best time to do this.
2015 Hurricane Season Expectations
Last year’s hurricane season was a very busy season. Hopefully this year we will not reach those numbers. NOAA’s outlook for this year is 8-13 tropical storms and 3 hurricanes, with 1 of those becoming a major hurricane. There is already warm water in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, signaling the possibility of more storms and stronger storms. It has already been a very active storm season; we saw this around Mother’s Day. That’s why we need to be prepared now.
As Hurricane Season gets rolling, I’m reflecting on the countless “hurrications” and abrupt home evacuations that my animal companions and I have endured since 2000 from Louisiana to Washington, D.C. to North Carolina. While I review the past, present, and future statistics I think of my loved ones that are in Louisiana, North Carolina, and all along the Gulf and East Coast, and I find myself remembering the anxiety and stress that I experienced 6 months out of the year while living in Louisiana for nearly 20 years.
Most of that anxiety was self-induced. Procrastination is to blame. It was, unfortunately, my nature to wait until the very last minute to do most things, especially if they were important. The Clash’s famous song was my official theme song every time a storm barreled closer to the coast. Not only did I mastered the art of procrastination, but I was never been the best at organizing or preparing for trips, not to mention sudden or imminent natural disasters.
That has always been the case until I had to literally run for my life with my animal companions’ lives in tow many times from hurricanes and fires (more than once for each of these natural disasters). I’ll admit it: It took more than a few natural disasters before I got my act together. That is one of the many reasons why I created this blog. My hope is to help others learn from my mistakes and to be prepared for anything.
Even if you don’t have an animal menagerie as large as ours, you’ll need to plan ahead and prepare for each of your companion animals. Our animals are members of our families. We have a responsibility to take care of them by preparing for them. Until they are able to pack up their own stuff into little backpacks, we, as their guardians, have been given this responsibility and need to take it very seriously.
Make a checklist of the items below. Keep them in a water proof bin ready to go at a moment’s notice. Keep everything accessible and stored in sturdy containers that can be carried easily. [You can download this evacuation checklist HERE.]
- Current photos of you with your animal companions – including descriptions of them to help others identify them in case you and your animals become separated—and to prove that they are yours once you’re reunited.
- Stay up to date with animal vaccinations. Make copies of all recent vaccination records (for each animal) and bring a copy of these records with you.
- Proper I.D. & Vaccination Tags – It is imperative that your companion wears his or her ID tags at all times so they can be properly identified, if you are separated. Maintaining up-to-date identification information on tags is critical. Put your cell phone number on the tag. Include numbers of a friend or relative outside your immediate area. Microchips are an excellent tool because if their collar falls off, your animal companion has a built-in identification system.
- Written information about your animals’ feeding schedules, medical conditions, and behavior issues along with the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to board your pets or place them in foster care.
- Sturdy leashes & harnesses
- Transport carriers – Collapsible or sturdy options
- Water bowls
- Bottled water (for you and the animals)
- Food bowls
- Food – dry (Keep in an airtight container. Refresh every 6 months.)
- Food – canned (Pack some of their favorites or special meals like tuna as a yummy surprise. Giving them their yummy favorites will help relieve stress. )
- If they are on a raw diet you will want to make at least a week’s worth of meals and freeze them.
- Poop bags
- Garbage bags
- Litter box + litter + scoop
- Cooler for frozen or cold items
- Prescription medications – Have an adequate supply if they are currently on any.
- Supplements (glucosamine, salmon oil, calcium, etc.)
- Toys – an important stress reliever
- Bedding – comfy animals = relaxed animals
- Scratching posts (so kitties don’t destroy other people’s furniture)
- Cat nip – When all else fails, get kitty stoned.
- Anything that will calm them: Feliway or DAP, aromatherapy (Rescue Remedy, HomeoPet, Spirit Essences™ Easy-Traveler, thunder shirts
- Hand sanitizer
- Seat belts or restraints for any animal not kenneled
- Animal First Aid Kit
- Disaster Preparedness Kits for animals
- First Aid Pet App – Includes first aid videos and vaccine tracking
- SAS Survival Guide App
- Silly putty or Play-Doh ~ This is a must-have human de-stressor for the driver or passenger. It has saved many stressed out minds while sitting for hours in traffic on the highways.
- iBooks – download them and have ready for the many hours that you could be sitting in the car for hours during a mass evacuation.
- The Humane Society of the United States has provided information on Disaster Preparedness for Domestic Animals, Livestock, and Horses.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
- Does your vehicle have room for all of your animal companions?
- Does it have room for all of their supplies and all of your supplies?
- Is your vehicle safe?
- Does your vehicle have air conditioning or heating?
If you cannot say yes to all of those questions, you need to make arrangements with a friend or family member who is also evacuating.
Back in the day, I would have answered NO to all five questions. Fortunately, I have some of the best friends in the world. They let me borrow their vehicle and evacuate with them and their animal menagerie. I am forever grateful to them for the many evacuations that we made safely together over the years.
- Who is willing to take you and your animal companions in for several days to weeks?
- If it is friends or family, do they understand exactly what they are signing up for if they agree to give you and your menagerie shelter?
- How long can they let you stay there?
If you do not have family or friends that can take you all in safely, find a place of refuge that is pet-friendly. There are websites that can help you locate animal friendly hotels before you set out on the road. Or you can find hotels along the way. If you enjoy having your animal companions with you when you’re out and about, there is a resource for locating pet friendly restaurants and bars.
If there are no pet-friendly hotels in the area that you are evacuating to, find out if there is a local animal facility there that can board your animals. Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept animals because of state health and safety regulations. Service animals are the only animals allowed there.
Have a proper-sized pet carrier for each animal. For example, do not attempt to cram two cats into one kennel because “they are buddies and will be fine together.” This could go horribly wrong if one of them becomes stressed. Trust me. As a rule, each animal should have their own kennel.
Carriers should be large enough to allow your animal companion to stand comfortably, turn around, and lie down. They may have to stay in the carrier for hours at a time. Be sure to have a secure cage with no loose objects. If you are using a metal or plastic kennel, know that as soon as you hit the road, the metal will most likely begin to rattle. Partially cover the kennel with a sheet or blanket. This will minimize the rattling sound and will also eliminate stress from riding in a car.
Keep your kennels in an easily accessible area of the house – not in the basement of a building. Your condo could catch on fire on the floor above you and you could find yourself stuck on the 8th floor with 5 animals that need evacuating. Having to run up and down 8 flights of stairs multiple times, for each animal, while your condo is on fire, is something that should never have to happen. (That’s a lesson that I learned the hard way). Prepare and plan ahead.
Leave blankets, sheets or bedding in the kennels at all times. This is one less step that you will have to take if you have to grab your animals at a moment’s notice.
Desensitize your animal companion to the transport crate or kennel ahead of time. Turn the ‘scary kidnap box’ into a comfy sleeping den, or special treat place, or dinner time den. You can do this for any animal (cats, rabbits, chickens, rats, iguanas, birds, dogs, etc).
Small to medium-sized snakes, lizards, turtles, and amphibians can be transported in a small igloo cooler. The cooler helps maintain a stable temperature for your reptile friend. Place a damp towel in the cooler for comfort and humidity. When transporting your snake, make sure it is securely wrapped in a (tear free) pillow case. Then place into the igloo.
If you are traveling with small mammals that overheat easily, you will need to provide a well ventilated transport cage – do not use anything plastic and avoid placing any mammal or reptile in direct sunlight inside the vehicle. Even if the air is on, small mammals and reptiles can overheat and perish. Be sure to provide safe chewing options for yours small mammals as well as some sort of hide boxes (cardboard or plastic) for your small mammal friends. Animals (including reptiles) can overheat easily, so check on them frequently.
If your animal companion cannot go into a transport kennel calmly or willingly, or if she does not travel well in a vehicle, you may need to discuss a safe sedative with your veterinarian. Be sure to read the directions properly if you have to medicate one of your animal companions. Even if they drug appears to not be working, be patient and let it work. Their stress levels can mask the drug’s effects. You can easily overdose them. Follow your vet’s instructions precisely!
Have a Backup Plan
In the event that a natural disaster strikes and you are not able to get home, ask a reliable neighbor or friend to assist with evacuating your animal companions. Make sure this person has a spare key and knows where your Evacuation Kit(s) are stored. Be sure that they are comfortable and familiar with each animal. Show them where your animals are most likely to be hanging about or hiding. Ask them to meet you at a specific location where you can collect your animals.
If you use a pet-sitting service, she may also be able to help you, in case the disaster happens on her watch. You will need to discuss the possibility of this well in advance. Give these caretakers written permission to medicate (if qualified) or take your animals to the vet if it becomes necessary.
DO NOT LEAVE THEM BEHIND
If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your animals. Even if you think you will only be gone for a few hours, take your animal companions with you. You have no way of knowing how long you’ll be gone, and you may not be able (or allowed) to go back for them. They are your family members. You wouldn’t leave a child or grandparent behind. Why even consider leaving your animal companion? Do not leave any pets behind!
Plan Ahead & Stay Calm
Proper planning before disaster strikes home can help you remain calm and panic free in an otherwise overwhelming and stressful situation. It will ensure your animal companions’ safety, and give you peace of mind. Sometimes you cannot plan ahead because the disaster comes in fast and furious. But if you can plan and evacuate early, do it. Waiting until the last minute will ensure stress on not only you, but on your animal companions. Remember that if you are stressed, they are most certainly going to stress.
Breathe. You can do this. Be calm. Breath some more. Things will not go according to plan. It’s ok. Breathe. All is well. Let your animal companions give you the comfort when you need it most. One of the many gifts that they offer freely to their human is to calm and comfort us. Let them do it, especially when you are running from one of life’s storms. Remember to laugh and take another deep breath. It will all be over soon. As the song so eloquently says, “So, let go. Jump in. It’s alright ’cause there’s beauty in the breakdown. So, let go.”
By creating a thorough evacuation plan, you will be prepared for any disaster, devastation, or calamity that comes your way. Life can be chaotic. Natural disasters can strike fast and furiously, but there are ways to avoid being hit head on. You can respond safely, efficiently, and calmly. It can be done without drama and stress. You just have to put in some effort. As we enter hurricane season, there is no better time than NOW. Be prepared. You will wish you had taken the time to prepare if nature comes directly at you this season.
If you believe you can accomplish everything by “cramming” at the eleventh hour, by all means, don’t lift a finger now. But you may think twice about beginning to build your ark once it has already started raining. ― Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead