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Include Your Pets in Hurricane Emergency Plans

By Samantha-Rae Tuthill, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
January 09, 2013; 10:25 AM

If you have the means to do so, evacuating before a storm hits is your greatest chance of safety. For pet owners, this requires some extra planning.

Photo courtesy of Ellyn B.

"Planning should take place long before a hurricane is on radar," said Niki Dawson, Director of Disaster Services for the Humane Society of the United States.

Many of the necessary steps for evacuating with your pet involve arrangements made ahead of time. You should already know of a place at least 100 miles inland of your location that you can go to with your pets. A friend or relative's house, a pet-friendly hotel, or a kennel that can house your pets while you stay somewhere else are all suitable options for taking an animal with you during an evacuation.

Dawson recommends that you set up these plans long before hurricane season starts, and to check up periodically to make sure your plans are still secure. Before leaving for the evacuation, call ahead again to make sure there is current vacancy for you or your pets where you intend to go.

When a storm is approaching you have a lot to think about to prepare. By already knowing how you are going to take care of your furry family members, you help to relieve yourself of some of the stress.

Related: Traveling Safely With Your Pets

To ensure a safe and comfortable time away from home for your pet, you should bring its crate or carrier, and three to five days of food in an air-tight container and water. It's also important to have its medical records and proof of vaccines in case it needs to see a vet while you are out of town or is staying in a kennel. Comfort items, like a familiar blanket or one of your old t-shirts that has your scent on it, and some of his or her favorite toys will help make an easier transition.

It's highly recommended that you have your pet microchipped. If it gets loose and loses its collar, veterinarians and shelters can scan the chip for your contact information. Make sure that you keep your contact information up to date with the company your chip is registered with. If you adopted a pet from a shelter that had been previously microchipped, make sure that it is your information on the account and not that of the shelter or a previous owner.

If your animal is not microchipped, you should have a tag on its collar (most major pet supply stores have do-it-yourself kiosks that can engrave a tag in minutes) that has your contact information. In a last-minute bind, write your information on a piece of tape and adhere it to your pet's collar. When traveling, have a number that someone can be reached on, like for your cell phone or a family member that lives outside of the evacuation area. If you are away from home and your pet's tag only has your home number on it, your reunion could be unnecessarily delayed.

Your pet's collar should have a tag with your phone number, its microchip information tag and its current proof of rabies vaccination tag. Photo courtesy of Samantha-Rae Tuthill

Dawson also recommends that people take pictures of themselves with their pets and keep it on their cell phone or keep a printed picture in with other important paperwork. If your pet gets lost and loses its identification information, having this picture can help you to reclaim your animal from a shelter or rescue service.

This is especially true for people who stay behind during a storm.

"People should take the same precautions for their pets that they would take for themselves," Dawson said. This means keeping them as safe and comfortable as possible during a storm. Bring them inside and never try to leave an animal to ride out a storm in a dog house or other unsecured location.

Storms can be very traumatic for pets. People with thunder-phobic dogs know this all too well. Increase that thunderstorm to a hurricane, and your pet may face some serious anxiety.

It's important to keep them confined in a comfortable area. A crate or a closed room with few places to hide will make it easier to gather up your pet in case you need to leave in a hurry. Scared animals will tend to hide and may lash out in fear when you try to pull them out of their spot once you find them. It's better for both of you to avoid this hassle all together.

Know what the animal services are in your town. Local animal emergency contacts can tell you where to look if you get separated from your pet during a storm. This information can and should be gathered before the storm, as they will be incredibly busy after the storm hits.

The Humane Society has done a lot of work with post-disaster pet recovery. Dawson cites Katrina as being the turning point in animal rescue efforts. People were unprepared and unorganized when it came to establishing shelters and recovery centers after Katrina, which led to a strong resolve to improve the planning for such efforts. As a result, when the tornado hit Joplin, Mo., last year, emergency pet shelters were constructed within 24 hours.

"With more organization comes more reunions," Dawson said, "and we're really happy to see that. We're pushing for preparedness more than ever, which is why we want to get the message out to pet owners to have a plan before a storm comes."

Everyone can help families and their pets during an emergency. You can donate to the Humane Society on a national or local level, volunteer, or sign up with your local shelters to be a foster for pets. When a storm comes through, people may go to local animal shelters for temporary housing of their pets. This creates over crowding problems, which puts adoptable pets in danger of euthanasia. By volunteering to foster pets ahead of time, your shelter can establish a relationship with you to help temporarily store adoptable pets until they can find a permanent home, or at the very least to provide a place for them to go during storm-related overcrowding.

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