Keeping your pets safe during a hurricane

With the arrival of hurricane season, it is vital that residents of hurricane-prone areas be prepared. From having an emergency plan in place to making sure you have an emergency kit ready to go and knowing ahead of time what emergency numbers to call and where the closest hurricane shelter will be if you need to evacuate. Unfortunately, too often people overlook their pets when it comes to hurricane safety. And whatever you do, don’t leave your pets at home when you evacuate. The chance of your pet surviving a hurricane is slim and unlikely. If it’s not safe for you, it’s not safe for your pets. It is critical to have an emergency plan in place for your pets in the event of a hurricane and that your plan involves your pets being relocated to a safe location.

In the event of a hurricane, if you must evacuate to a shelter, you will most likely not be able to bring your pet. Although Red Cross shelters and some others will allow service animals to enter with their owner, many shelters will refuse entry. Therefore, it is better to be prepared in advance rather than be left without a safe place to go with your pet during a hurricane.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, more and more communities are developing pet-friendly shelter plans. The key is to do your research ahead of time and find out if any local shelters will take your pet(s). If you can’t find any pet-friendly shelters, the next step is to contact hotels or motels outside the area to find out what their pet policies are and if they would waive the “no pets” policy in case of an emergency. You may also want to contact your vet to ask if they have any suggestions. As you research, be sure to keep a list of pet resources with phone numbers and addresses. If a hurricane comes your way and you need to evacuate, you’ll be glad you made the list.

Next, it’s important to have an emergency kit ready for your pet as well. As with all emergency kits, pet kits should be pre-assembled, left in an easily accessible area near the exit (preferably with your emergency kit too), and ready to go. Pet kits should contain important documents (veterinary records, etc.), medications, first aid kit, food, bowls, leashes, toys, folding pet bed, blankets, crate, flashlight, and drinking water. Keep in mind that you should reserve enough food and water for at least a week. When reserving food, if your pet eats canned food, reserve a can opener or purchase the easy-peel cans. If your pet has any special needs, such as kitty litter, litter box, heat lamp, licking salt, pine bedding, etc., be sure to reserve those items as well. It’s important to note that if your pet is a bird, you’ll still want an off-the-shelf blanket so you can cover his cage and reduce stress while traveling. Keep all items in a waterproof container that is sturdy and can be easily transported. Also, it’s important to keep a photo of your pet in the container in case it gets lost. The key is to have your pet’s emergency kit ready to go at a moment’s notice. One part of your emergency kit that won’t go in the trash is securely attaching your current contact information to your pet’s (bird) collars or legs, if possible. If you have birds, small animals, or reptiles, you can also label your pet’s cage. In the event you become separated from your pet, emergency crews will be able to contact you using the information you provided on your pet’s collar. Lastly, get a rescue alert sticker. By visiting the ASPCA online, you can get a free sticker by completing an online form.

When you have a pet emergency kit and list of pet resources ready to go, the next step is to stay informed. Keep track of any approaching threat by listening to weather information on TV, radio or the Internet. If an evacuation warning is to be issued, you will often have some time to move yourself, your family and your pets to a safe location. If you know a hurricane is coming, call the pet shelter or motel ahead of time to confirm shelter arrangements. It’s also important to keep all your pets with you and indoors, even if you’re not home. In the event that an evacuation order comes in while you are not home, it is essential to have a contact, such as a neighbor or friend, who can pick up your pets and meet you at another location.

In addition to having your resources ready, you may want to think ahead about what you can do to keep your pet calm during a hurricane. There are several natural remedies now available to help keep your pet’s stress level low. Products like Bach Flower Remedies or NaturVet Quiet Moments Gel are helpful for dogs and cats that may be experiencing anxiety. Also, you may want to buy some treats to “keep them busy” while your pets are cooped up for the duration of a hurricane.

If there is a possibility of a hurricane, the best plan, if possible, is to go to a safe place with your pet. If you can’t find a pet-friendly shelter, you may need to leave the area and evacuate to a safe place where you can stay with your pet.

In addition to this article, there are excellent resources available for pet owners on the FEMA and ASPCA websites. In the event of a hurricane or disaster evacuation, you can never have too much information, especially if you have a pet. Our pets trust us to care for and protect them. With preparation and knowledge, all pet owners can ensure their pets are safe during a hurricane.

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