With Sandy barreling toward some of the most heavily populated areas of the country, there is no better time than now to discuss some tips for being prepared in an emergency.
Be Prepared–before there is an emergency you should have a plan set in place.
Red Cross shelters typically do NOT allow pets and finding other public shelters that allow pets can be challenging. Before an emergency check your local ordinances regarding pets in evacuation shelters–post Katrina, some states changed rules to allow muzzled dogs in evacuation centers that normally prohibit dogs. Check your local information to find out for sure what the rules regarding shelters are in your area but it’s often a necessity to find alternative housing for your pets and yourself if you want to stay with them. Plan ahead by finding pet friendly hotels that are outside potential evacuation zones, find friends or family who would be willing to take you and your pets in during an emergency, and locate boarding facilities outside potential evacuation zones that could be contacted if your pets aren’t able to be housed by friends/family.
During Hurricane Katrina thousands of people died because they did not want to leave their pets unattended in their homes, New York City has learned from this and has opened ALL of their shelters to pets and they have changed rules to allow pets in all taxis, all trains, and all subways during the evacuation for Sandy (so long as the pets are leashed or in a carrier).
Make sure you have your dogs’ records easily accessible. You don’t want to have to spend time digging out records for your pets when you could be driving to safety. When evacuating, it’s important to bring vet records, proof of vaccinations, photos of your pets (incase they escape or get lost), and if your dog has their CGC, it may be beneficial to bring that record as well since during an evacuation a hotel/motel may waive their no-pets rule if your dog has a CGC (cannot hurt to ask).
At the first sign of a potential emergency, you should create a Go Bag for your dog (if you live in a place where evacuations happen more regularly, you may just want to keep a Go Bag ready year round). This way, in case the emergency actually happens, you don’t have to pull together individual resources but just pick up your pets’ Go Bag and go. In the Go Bag you should have copies of your pets’ health records, you should have extra medications, a pet first aid kit, photos of your pets (you may want to have informational sheets with your pets photo so you have a pre-made lost poster if your dog gets lost), food for a few days, easily transportable beds, some toys, bowls, and muzzles (since some shelters will allow muzzled pets). You may also consider adding calming tools to your go bag since an evacuation can be extremely stressful–bring rescue remedy, calming treats, melatonin, DAP collars/sprays, lavender room mists, Through A Dog’s Ear, Thundershirts, or ace bandages for TTouch wraps.
During an emergency–if you’ve prepared well, this piece of the puzzle should be easy and relatively non-eventful.
Make sure your dog has a collar with current ID tags with your contact information on it. Make sure it has contact information for where you can be contacted in an emergency –cell phone numbers, email address, or other number where you will be during the emergency. The collar should be properly fitted and the tags secure. You may consider a microchip as a form of permanent ID for your dog–I like Home Again’s program.
When you are evacuating with pets, it takes a little bit more effort and planning so it is advisable to evacuate earlier rather than later. It’s not ideal to have to leave your home and evacuate, so many people want to wait until the last second but if you are evacuating with pets, you should not wait. You may need to evacuate not just to a local shelter but completely out of the area to find a place where you can bring your pets (knowing where you can go is helpful, go back up to the preparedness section).
You may want to utilize a muzzle or crates for your dogs if they are going to be housed with unknown people or animals. Even as prepared as you will be, it is a very stressful situation and dogs are more likely to bite if they are under extreme stress.
While you want to surround your dogs with familiar things to try and give them a sense of normalcy, don’t have the same expectations of them in terms of behavior/obedience. The upheaval is stressful for our pets in its own right but add on that the stress/fear/concern of a handler can absolutely transfer to the dog and dogs may not be acting normally. Compound that with the fact that the handler is under extreme stress and may not be acting normally, it’s not surprising that the communication between human and canine may be less than clear. If your dog is typically great off-leash, this is not a time to trust that they will continue to be good off-leash, if your dog never dashes out doors, this is not the time to trust that. Training skills may fall apart when handler and dog are under severe stress, so use management and good decisions to keep your pet safe.
Getting Back to Normal–after the emergency, it may take time to get next to normal.
Depending on the situation, your pet may have had a few very scary moments in your home prior to evacuation (thunder, lightening, wind howling, people being frantic, etc.). Your dog may take a little time to settle back into the normal routine. You may want to use the calming aids previously mentioned to help your pup feel safe and secure while getting back into the swing of things. Thankfully, dogs are pretty resilient and most will take things in stride but if you have a dog who is extra sensitive, just remember to remain calm and give them a time to settle back into the normal routine.