Preparing for an Emergency Evacuation

Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Now that hurricane season is upon us here along the Gulf Coast, I’ve been thinking about my evacuation and disaster plan. With an event like a hurricane, you have the luxury of forewarning, typically for a couple of days, so admittedly it feels a little less urgent. But your evacuation and disaster preparedness isn’t just for hurricanes–it’s important for tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, severe flooding, etc.  Probably much MORE so for those things like tornadoes which provide no real warning.  So, with all that said, here are some key things to think about when evacuating with your pet.

1. Bring your pet with you! I realize this may seem like a “duh” kind of thing, but not taking an evacuation seriously and thinking it will be just a day or so is one thing that contributed to so many deaths when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Since you will be taking your pets with you, WHERE you are going needs to accept them. Not all emergency shelters will accept pets, so you need to plan accordingly. And as dog people know, not all hotels accept pets either, so don’t assume it will just be ok when you get there.  Have a plan, and KNOW ahead of time where you are going to go.

2.  Have a copy of your pet’s vaccination records and important medical history.  This is something you should keep in your records at home, so you can have it at a moment’s notice.  The day before a hurricane hits land is NOT the day to stroll into your vet clinic to get a copy of records–your vet staff will be busy trying to make arrangements for boarders to evacuate, filling emergency medications, etc.  You also never know when you may have to evacuate to a different city and board your pets for a short time–having copies of their records will prevent unnecessary vaccinations since you have proof they’re protected.

3.  Take a crate for every pet.  You don’t know what situation you will be in, so having a crate for each dog provides you with more options.  Maybe a hotel that wouldn’t normally allow pets will allow yours if they are kept crated in the room.  Maybe your dogs will be allowed in a pet-friendly shelter, but only if you provide crates for them.  Wire crates make the most efficient use of space, and provide the most ventilation if your pet is staying outdoors.  Make sure your pet is used to being crated, so they have a safe place away from home to alleviate some of the stress they are experiencing.

4.  Take a 1-2 week supply of dog food and water.  Ever seen a grocery store before or after a hurricane?  The shelves are picked clean, and that may include dog food.  Don’t count on being able to pick up food wherever you end up.  Take a good 1-2 week supply of the food you normally feed.  And don’t forget water for your dogs as well–the same precautions people must take after storms before drinking tap water apply to dogs, so bottled water is essential.  If you feed canned food, don’t forget a can opener and spoon.

5.  Bring a 2 week supply of essential medications.  Don’t forget your pet’s medications at home.  I always have extra flea medication with me as well, since your dogs may be in closer contact with other pets then normal, who may have brought their own “friends” along for the ride.  Don’t forget their heartworm medication!

6.  Collar with ID tags.  This is critical!  Make sure your dog is wearing current ID tags, so if he escapes, you can be notified.  Microchips are great and you should have that as well because they can’t fall off, but microchips are not immediately visible like tags.

7.  General items — Leashes for everyone, bowls for food and water, potty bags, absorbent bedding, paper towels, and trash bags.

And of course, your Canine First Aid Kit.  If you don’t have one, sign up for my newsletter for tips on what to include.

I hope this gets you thinking about evacuation plan so you’re ready if the time comes.  For more information, you can download this free PDF file from the American Veterinary Medical Association.


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