Online Magazines
Local Events
Local Newsletters
Article Library

Past Activities:
. Pets in Pearls
. Baby/Pet Photo Contest

Other Resources:

Shelter Disaster Plan Handbook

Emergency checklists [PDF: 115K]

Anthrax and Pets (Washington Post)

Planning for your pet in your will

HSUS Disaster Services

FEMA - Disaster Preparedness



The Newsroom: Disaster Preparedness for You and Your Pets

Download Emergency checklists [PDF: 115K]

Preparing Companion Animals for an Emergency

The recent tragic events in this country have made us painfully aware of our own vulnerability. Now more than ever it is vital for all of us with companion animals to create an emergency plan.

When faced with an emergency the most important thing to do is to remain as calm and rational as possible. Panicking will only put you and your animals in further danger.

In this space we cannot possibly cover everything you will need to know. Visit the website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: www.fema.gov for additional information on disaster preparation.

The tips on this page are very general and apply chiefly to dogs and cats. Exotic companion animals such as birds, reptiles, and fish will need additional supplies and help in order to survive. You may need to contact a rescue group that specializes in these animals to get specific instructions.

You've got to leave-Right Now!

You've been told to evacuate your building, an area, or even an entire city. It is imperative that you take your animals with you, because you do not know when or if you will be allowed to return for them. Keep in mind that if your home is not safe enough for you, it is not safe enough for your animals.

--Creating your own personal escape plan
--Carrier ideas for people whose pets don't' like carriers
--Leaving by car
--Leaving on foot
--Finding a safe place to go
--Staying Put
--An Animal First Aid Kit
--If the Emergency Occurs While You're Away
--When your animal is still in your home
--Some General Advice--Take Care of Yourself
--Your Animal's Future Without You
--Finally, Reasons to feel safe

Even if emergency workers tell you that you must leave your building NOW and to take nothing with you, this is still going to be the easiest time to get your animals out safely.

To prepare for this circumstance you need a plan so you can get yourself and your animals out of harm's way quickly and efficiently. When you create your plan keep your companion animal's personality and behavior in mind and be sure to practice several times so you can remember the steps easily.Try to assemble the items you will need into one accessible location, preferably near your door:

  • One carrier for each animal (who needs one!) assembled, clean, and ready to use. Place a clean towel or soft cloth in each carrier.Copies of your animal's vaccination and vet records in a plastic ziplock bag inside your emergency kit.Food (preferably a week's supply), bottled water, medications, a first aid kit, and other appropriate supplies in a box or bag near your door.A leash for each animal who needs oneA disposable litter box and litter (if your animal uses litter)
  • A flashlight and extra batteries

Also be certain to bring any medications your animal needs. You might even wish to grab a comfort item or two, like a favorite bed or toy, to ease your animal through this rough time.

Creating your own personal escape plan

Carrier ideas for people whose pets don't like carriers

  • Get your animals accustomed to the carriers or crates by giving them treats or food in them, with the door open, of course.If your pet is scared of the carrier, consider buying a separate "emergency carrier" that looks different from the "vet and vacation carrier." Put appealing bedding inside it, remove the door temporarily, and let your pet explore it at will.This will not be possible for everyone, but here goes: Train your pet to go inside the "emergency carrier" when she is frightened. Use positive reinforcement techniques and comforting toys, treats, etc. to lure your pet into the carrier during thunderstorms, or whenever something scares her.Involve your pet in "disaster drills" where you place her in the carrier briefly, go out of the door, walk around, come back, and then liberally reward her with praise, treats, and a fun game.
  • Place the "emergency carrier" in a place that your pet already associates with safety, like the back of the closet and then leave the door off so she can go in whenever she feels ready.

Unfortunately, one escape plan cannot work for every person or family out there; and one plan will not work in all situations. It's important to realistically consider your specific circumstances when creating your plan. It is going to be a lot easier for someone with one dog to get out of a dangerous area, than someone with five cats and a parrot. Also if your companion animal has a tendency to panic you might want to consider how you will calm her and convince her to come along.Create a back-up plan in case something goes wrong with your first plan: for example, after the collapse of the twin towers, many people fled Manhattan on foot and found the roads impassible for cars. While your car may be an important part of your emergency plan, consider a back-up plan in case your car is disabled, or the roads are blocked.Practice, practice, practice. Run your own "fire drills."

Leaving by car
If you are lucky enough to have a car (or a friend with a car) you may be able to evacuate with more supplies and to safely and comfortably transport your animals out of danger. You may wish to keep certain items in your car ahead of time to streamline your evacuation process: a disposable litterbox (if you have cats), litter, a week's supply of food, several bottles of water, clean towels and sheets, a first aid kit, leashes, etc. Even keep extra carriers (collapsible) in case you spot other domestic animals fleeing by themselves as you are leaving.

Leaving on foot
If you have only one animal to worry about, leaving on foot should not be too much of a problem, but if you have multiple animals, or special needs animals you may need additional supplies and preparation. Here are some tips:

  • If you will need to carry your animals in multiple carriers, consider purchasing a folding cart, a wagon, or even dolley on which you can push your animals (and emergency supplies) to safety. Use secure cords, either bungee cords or luggage straps, to keep the carriers from shifting or falling.Consider purchasing dog booties for your dog--they could protect his or her feet from debris, broken glass, or even hot coals as you walk to safety. If you plan to use them, get him or her accustomed to them beforehand by using them on walks from time to time.
  • Cover carriers with towels or sheets to keep animals calm and to protect them from smoke and fumes.

Finding a safe place to go
Many emergency shelters will not allow companion animals, so consider where you can stay if forced to evacuate your home. Call local hotels and motels to find which will allow animals, or visit www.petswelcome.com to find a listing of companion animal-friendly lodgings. You might arrange to stay with friends or family in the event of an emergency, or you could network with other animal-people to make emergency plans. If you absolutely cannot take your animals with you, or must go to shelter that does not permit animals, you may be able to board your animals with a vet, a kennel, or as a last resort, your local shelter. Make certain your animals are all wearing tags and have their vet records with them. You may wish to speak to your vet now about the possibility of emergency boarding, as vets, kennels, and shelters all become overwhelmed with animals during emergencies. I would suggest this only as a back up plan though, in most cases your animals will be safest and more emotionally healthy if they remain with you.

Staying Put
Keep in mind that fleeing is not always the best answer. Recently in College Park, MD, two students were killed when they tried to escape a tornado in their car. During a hurricane, tornado, or even a potential biological/chemical weapons attack your best course of defense might be to stay where you are. Try to weigh the situation, for example you may be warned about a hurricane or potential flood early enough to calmly and efficiently evacuate. If you have little or no warning try to find the nearest safe place and take immediate steps to protect yourself and your animals.Tornado: In the event of a tornado experts advise people to go into the centers of their homes or buildings, on the ground floor or below, and keep in the center of the room. Keep your animals with you and do not allow them to roam about. Stay clear of tall furniture or other items that might fall on you, or simply turn them onto their sides yourself. Watch out for pictures, mirrors, or light fixtures that might swing or fall should the building shake. Keep away from windows or other glass that might shatter. If possible hide beneath a sturdy piece of furniture (an extremely solid table or desk) to protect you from falling debris.Chemical/Biological Attack: Experts say that if you have reason to suspect a chemical or environmental attack outdoors, you should remain inside. Close all doors and seal all windows. Put damp towels along any gaps, even small ones. Turn off the air conditioning, heat pump, or ventilation system. Keep your animals with you and get into a secure area of your home. Again, keep away from windows and doors. If you suspect you or your animals have been exposed immerse yourselves in water if possible, or at least shower. Listen to the radio to learn when it will be safe to venture out and seek medical or veterinary assistance.Flash Flood: Do not try to drive or walk in a sudden flash flood; you could be swept away, even in shallow water. Evacuate early if possible. If you do not have enough time to leave, try to reach high ground without going through the water, or get on top of your home or building and wait for help. Keep your animals with you in crates or on leashes so they will not jump into the water and be swept away.Even if you are remaining at home, emergency supplies are vital. Make sure you have a sufficient supply of fresh water, preserved food (both pet food and human food), a first aid kit, warm blankets, carriers, etc. FEMA suggests that during a natural disaster you fill all the sinks, tubs, and other containers in your home with water, in case the water supply is disrupted.

An Animal First Aid Kit

  • A brochure, sheet, or booklet on first aid for companion animals (available from several animal related charities)GauzeMedical tape (elastic)Band-AidsAce BandageAntibiotic OintmentSterile saline solution (for flushing eyes, noses, and ears)ScissorsTweezersHydrogen PeroxideClean towelsStyptic pencil or powder (stops bleeding)Fluids and feeding syringe (to rehydrate a dehydrated animal)
  • A safe diarrhea medication--check with your vet to find one that is ok for your animal and to learn the correct dosage

If the Emergency Occurs While You're Away
There is always a danger that a disaster may occur when you are away from home and you will be unable to return in time to get your animals out. If possible arrange for a neighbor to get your animals out when you are away. Be sure that they have a key, are familiar with your animals, and can find the carriers and all other supplies. Ask them to practice your evacuation drill with you. It might be a good idea for them to feed your animals from time to time to foster trust. Provide them with written instructions and a list of your animals so they don't panic and forget.Many animals fear their carriers and crates because they associate them with vet trips or other unpleasant experiences. This can make it very hard for a friend or neighbor to get your animals to safety. Try to create a pleasant association using the carrier tips above.If you cannot get your animals out, and nobody else has been able to help you, you will need to concentrate on getting your animals out as quickly as possible. This is never easy, but here are some thoughts:

  • Put a taped, clearly readable, paper sign in a window or door stating how many animals you have, what kind, etc. Replace the sign periodically. Firefighters report that because window stickers are so hard to remove, and often look old, dirty, or faded, they usually assume stickers are out of date. A new paper sign will confirm that the animals still live there.If possible keep readable, new tags on your companion animals, with both daytime and evening number listed, possibly even an emergency contact if you cannot be reached. Although tags wear out quickly and can fall off they are a good low-tech solution. If a firefighter is the first person to find your animal she/he can easily read the tag and ask someone to contact you. While implanted microchips may be a good idea in addition to tags, many shelters do not have the technology to read them, so don't depend on a microchip to bring your animal home.
  • Keep up to date photos and records of your animals in a safe location, such as at work. If your animals are missing it is a good idea to make flyers with a photo on them. Give copies of the photos (with your name and contact info on the actual picture) to local shelters and vets. It will be easier for them to match the photo with your animal, rather than going on a vague description. If you think your animal may be in the shelter, go there yourself immediately to look for him or her, don't just call. The person answering the phone may not be aware of animals that just came in or might miss your animal's distinguishing features. Also a simple written error, such as putting brown instead of tan on the cage slip could prevent you from identifying your animal over the phone.

When your animal is still in your home
Immediately get as close to your home or building as possible, and repeatedly ask the police, fire fighters, volunteers, etc to please let you go get your animals. Sometimes officials will only allow a brief period of time for people to help their animals, or you may be dependent on finding a fire fighter with the time to assist you. You will want to be on the scene in order to fully utilize these small windows of opportunity.Be polite and respectful to those in charge, but repeatedly state your need to save your animals. They will be more likely to want to help you if you are being nice instead of antagonistic. Keep in mind though, that they are primarily there to save injured humans, put out fires, and prevent further human injuries and deaths. So your animals are low on their list of priorities.If you cannot get home to save your animals yourself, call Peta, HSUS, or the ASPCA (or call all 3!). These organizations were able to get trained animal rescuers into restricted areas of Manhattan following the WTC collapse, so they may be able to help your animals. But keep in mind that rescuers are very busy during emergencies, and your animals may not trust them, so it's important for you to do everything you can to get to your animals yourself.

Some General Advice--Take Care of Yourself
You will not be able to care for your animals if you are unconscious, dead, or severely injured. So, attend to your own safety immediately in the event of an emergency and then take care of your animals. For example, if there are noxious fumes in the area, first cover your nose and mouth with a damp cloth, and then place your animals in their carriers and cover the carriers with damp cloths. If you are injured, attend to your wound, stop the bleeding, and then help your animals--you don't want to pass out from the blood loss.


Your Animal's Future Without You
Even if you don't live or work in a high-risk area, you should consider what might become of their companion animals if you die unexpectedly, or even if you are injured or cannot return home.

  1. Make your wishes clear: The Humane Society of the United States has information available on providing for your animals in your will. Discuss your animals with your family, and send them a letter re-stating what you discussed. In many cases, unless you have a clear, legal will, that is immediately produced, your animals will become the responsibility of your family. Don't leave their future to chance.The buddy system: Arrange with a friend or neighbor that in the event you are killed or missing they will immediately come over and care for your animals, and you will do the same for theirs if they are hurt.
  2. Godparents: While it is not always possible to do this, try to find individuals willing to care for your animals long-term if something happens to you. Often this is a reciprocal agreement.

Finally, Reasons to feel safe
It is important not to let fear ruin your life, or your pet's life. Even after September 11th your statistical chances of being hurt in a terrorist attack or other disaster are fairly low. Driving to work every day is more dangerous. Being prepared can help you to remain calm should anything happen.

-- Article by Neva Davis

Article Sources:

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Humane Society of the United States

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal

Search for an Adoptable Pet

Questions? Email us at: info@metropets.org
© 1999-2007 MetroPets Online (501(c)3)
Your feedback is always welcome.
See the General Policies of MetroPets Online.