Animals in Disasters


Carol J. Donaldson

Evacuation orders can be given for a variety of reasons. Currently, it is the peak of fire season. We have seen that it doesn't matter if you live in a large city or a rural area, you are equally affected.

Preplanning is essential. You are the first line of defense. Do the best you can. No one is asking you to risk your life for your animal but if you have a plan and get out early, everyone has a better chance of surviva.

In disasters many animals do not fare well due to the actions of their owners. It is said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It is your judgement of the situation and planning that will enable those you love to survive.

For a successful evacuation:

1. Have a disaster plan. Research disaster planning at FEMA, humane societies and county web sites for more information.

2. Practice that plan -Animals are notoriously hard to catch when tensions are high. Practice loading horses; actually drive your evacuation routes (multiple), know where to meet if separated, have a destination were your animals can stay.

3. Have a bag for everyone permanently packed. You may not be allowed to return home for several days; therefore be prepared. Your bag should included clothing, towel, washcloth, toiletries, flashlight and first aid supplies. Make sure you take your important papers (you and your pet), picture id's, documents proving you live at your address and medications. Your animal's bag should have extra collar, leashes, water/food dishes and water and food. You should also have pictures of your pet to prove ownership. Micro chipping can help return a lost pet.

4. Leave early if you are in danger, don't wait for the authorities to call. That call may not come in time.

5. Have cats in crates and dogs on leashes. Cats need to be crated early. If your dog has never ridden in the back of the pickup, he will not stay in. He needs to be crated or tied in the center of the pickup, if you tie him to the side, you very well may drag him to death.

6. Make sure you always have gas in your vehicle.

7. Have cash.

8. If you do not have a vehicle, have phone numbers of friends that you can call to help you evacuate.

Once in a shelter:

1. Keep your animals under control - dogs on leashes and/or crated and cats in crates. Cats should be confined in a safe room if you are transferring him to a larger cage. He will need a litter box.

2. Bring food and water for your pets - not all shelters accept pets nor do they have food available for them.

If you cannot get to your animals or you have to leave them, notify 911 and then the disaster command center they will direct you who to call for an animal welfare check or rescue. Contact anyone you think can help - news reporters, sheriff's posse, humane rescue groups in your area - get word out that your animals need help.

Increase their chance of survival by leaving them plenty of food and water. To leave them tied; penned up or running loose is a tough decision. Tied up or penned up is almost certain death in a flood or fire. Running loose they could interfere with first responders or be hit by a car. Large animals have a difficult time saving themselves due to the fencing surrounding them. Most will not jump or go through a fence. If they are swimming they cannot see the wire under the water and may become entangled in it. Don't forfeit their lives, get them out.

When you are able to return, check for anything hazardous, chemicals, snakes, downed wires and fences before you release your animals.

When you obtain an animal you take on the responsibility for his welfare. Yet

time after time you hear and read about animals being abandon. If you are one of those people who think its just an animal and you are not going to take him, imagine if that was you. Everyone disappears, no food, no water, you can't leave, there is a wall of fire coming your way (horrible way to die) or you are swimming and swimming trying to keep your head above water until you can't do it anymore. Have some compassion - tell the disaster agency you left them behind or find a good home for them with someone who does care.

I talked several times with Yuba County earlier this year asking them how they wanted people to handle animal evacuations and who should they contact if they need assistance. I was told it was under review and I would have an answer soon - As of today I have no answers, other then call 911. Essentially you are on your own during an evacuation.

Keep your animals and family safe. Be prepared.

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