How to ensure the safety of family pets during a hurricane

By Michael Kuhne, AccuWeather staff writer

When a tropical storm or hurricane strikes, it is important to ensure the safety of every family member, including pets.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government implemented the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Act (PETS Act), which required all states take household pets and service animals into consideration in their disaster planning.

"The best way to keep yourself and your family, both people and animals, safe when disaster strikes is to have a good disaster plan," Wanda Merling said. Merling serves as the deputy director for animal cruelty and response for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

While general evacuation plans may be issued by state, local or federal agencies, the HSUS encourages people to make certain that they have evacuation plans of their own that include their pets.

For people living in a hurricane-prone area, Merling recommends identifying hotels along the evacuation route that are pet-friendly.

water rescue san jose

Rescue crews take out residents from a flooded neighborhood Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

"No matter what the specifics of your plan are, follow this basic safety rule, if you are told to evacuate, leave immediately and take your animals. If it's not safe for you, it's not safe for them," Merling said.

The PETS Act is an addition to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. The federal initiative authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide care, shelter and rescue to household pets and service animals during a natural disaster or emergency.

Disaster plans for pets should include having a disaster kit prepared, establishing evacuation routes ahead of time, identifying places to stay that include animals in addition to preparing for scenarios both at a residence, or where pets may be left alone in a home before they can be reached.

A good disaster kit should include three to seven days' worth of food and supplies for your pets, Merling said, adding that it is important to check expiration dates. A good rule of thumb is to go through disaster kits when daylight saving time ends and begins.

"If you are prepared and you practice, it will be second nature should you need to enact that plan," Merling said.

In addition to planning, there are other precautions pet owners can do to help ensure the safety of their animals.

"Make certain that you have your pets microchipped, ID tags on them and that they easily go into a carrier," Merling added. "Keeping them contained will keep them safe."

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In the unfortunate event an animal happens to get away from their owner during a storm, making certain they are identifiable with the most current and up-to-date information is important, she said.

If a pet is lost, Merling said to contact local animal control services and let them know that you have lost your pet.

"Make certain that you have a current photo of you with your animals that you can share with them," she added.

Roaring thunder, lightning, heavy rain and high winds can stir fear in many animals, causing extreme anxiety not only for pets, but also their owners who must manage this stress.

Merling said in order to reduce stress in an animal during a disaster, like a hurricane, keeping items on hand that they enjoy is key. This could include favorite toys and a blanket.

"Stay with them as well. Just the sound of your voice is often calming," Merling said.

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