A recent international poll found that 61 of pet owners will not evacuate during a disaster if they cannot bring their pets with them. In 2006, Congress addressed this issue by passing the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which requires state and local emergency management agencies to make plans that take into account the needs of individuals with pets and service animals in the event of a major disaster or emergency.
Disasters may happen anywhere at any time. Natural disasters like hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes may occur with little to no warning. Unexpected emergencies such as fires often leave families – and pets – separated without means of communication with each other. The Humane Society of the United States advocates all pet owners plan ahead to care for their animals when disaster strikes. For additional advice, owners may consult their veterinarians or others in animal jobs (i.e., veterinary assistants).
What can you do right now to prepare for a disaster?
• Put a collar on each of your pets which clearly identifies your pet with his or her name and your contact information. Indoor-only pets should have collars also.
• Take three pictures of you with each of your pets in a well-lit area. You should be able to see your pet’s entire body clearly. The three pictures should be two side-view shots and at least one clear picture of the pet’s face.
• Talk to your neighbors, family, and friends about what they can do for your pets – and what you can do for their pet – if a disaster strikes. All parties should agree upon a location to meet in the event of an emergency. Those in animal jobs can usually provide advice on animal-friendly places to meet.
• Create a list of hotels (or friends’ homes) that would allow your pet(s) to stay with you in the event of an emergency.
• Create an Emergency Preparedness Kit (you should have one kit per pet – see below). Again, professionals in animal jobs, such as a vet assistant, can help you create your kit.
An Emergency Kit for your pet should contain:
• A three-or-more-day supply of food and water stored in airtight containers
• A sturdy leash or harness – or a suitable carrier if you have a small dog
• Extra feeding and watering bowls
• Current photos and a physical description of your pets, including identifying markings and microchip or tattoo numbers
• Any medications that your pet may be taking, vaccine records, and basic first-aid supplies (ask your veterinary assistant for advice regarding basic first-aid needs)
• “Comfort” items such as a special toy or blanket, and suitable bedding
• Waste disposal bags (i.e. “Pooch Pick-up Bags”)
• Cats should have a litter box with litter and a carrier large enough for one cat to use as a temporary “apartment” for several days. Professionals in animal jobs, such as a certified veterinary assistant, can guide you to the appropriate size.
Each kit should be kept in a place where, if you are evacuated or need to leave your home for any emergency or disaster situation, it can be easily accessed. Do not leave pets unattended at any time while traveling in an evacuation situation as they may be experiencing fear and anxiety for which you – the owner – may be the only comfort for them.
What if a disaster requiring the evacuation of your pet occurs while you aren’t home? Make arrangements well in advance for a trusted neighbor, friend, or veterinary assistant to collect your animals. This person should be familiar and comfortable with your pets, know where they are likely to be in your home, and know where the pet’s emergency kit is located. Discuss with your friend a specific location to meet after an evacuation.
If you own horses or other farm animals, you should contact your local humane organization, agricultural extension agent, or local emergency management agency to provide you with information about your community's large-animal disaster response plans.