As a tornado approached her Kansas farmstead, Dorothy looked for Toto when evacuating, tucking her beloved dog safely in her basket. Unable to reach her family in the storm cellar, the pair enters the house, where she’s knocked unconscious by a loose window, and they’re apparently swept from her black-and-white world to the technicolor dreamland of Oz.
When natural disasters strike, there’s no place like a prepared home and readiness isn’t just for humans; it’s for pets, too. Whatever plans are made this hurricane season, include your furry, scaly or feathered friend.
Hawaii Island Humane Society Executive Director Donna Whitaker recommends creating a pet kit that includes at least three days of food and water; bowls; a manual can opener; medicines and medical records; first aid supplies; a collar with ID tag, harness and leash; a crate or other carrier; pet litter and box; sanitation items; and toys, bedding and treats. Label items with your name and your pet’s name. Have a list of phone numbers for the Humane Society and veterinarians.
Whitaker also advises having photos of you and your pet for identification, as well as microchipping your pet and making sure the information is up-to-date, all of which are key to reuniting efforts if separation occurs.
Owners should create an evacuation plan that determines how pets will be assembled, as well as where you’ll sit and stay. Possible routes to sheltering options, who will care for your pets if you’re unable, and specific locations to meet should also be considered. Then practice and share the plan.
Those with smartphones may want the American Red Cross Pet First Aid app, which provides information on what to do during emergencies, how to recognize health problems, and how to maintain a pet’s health until veterinary assistance is available. It also contains resources for creating emergency action plans for pets. The app, costing 99 cents, is available at redcross.org/mobileapps.
During an emergency, pet owners should stay informed since different emergencies have different agency responses and instructions. Also, keep an eye on the weather and road conditions in preparation for an evacuation.
“The single most important thing you can do to protect your pets if you evacuate is to take them with you. If it’s not safe for you, it’s not safe for your pets,” states the humane society’s “Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies” brochure. “Animals left inside your home can escape through storm-damaged areas, such as broken windows. Animals turned loose to fend for themselves are likely to become victims of exposure, starvation, predators, contaminated food or water, or accidents. Leaving dogs tied or chained outside in a disaster is a death sentence.”
Signed into law in 2006, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act requires local and state governments take animals into account the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during and after a disaster. It allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance in caring, rescuing and sheltering such animals. Many states seek expert assistance to ensure plans are practical, realistic, and “genuinely protect the companion animals within their jurisdictions,” according to the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie recently released $2 million for the design and construction of improvements to harden various school facilities used as emergency shelters with hurricane-protective measures. Improvements include upgrading windows, doors and other building components vulnerable to high winds and flying debris, as well as providing pet-friendly shelters.
The state Civil Defense website has a list of hurricane evacuation shelters, some of which are “pet friendly.” Big Island shelters that take household pets are Kealakehe High, Konawaena High, Ka‘u High and Pahala Elementary, Honokaa High and Intermediate, Kalanianaole Elementary, Hilo High, Waiakea High, Keaau High, Keaau Middle and Pahoa High and Intermediate.
According to FEMA, a household pet is a domesticated animal such as a dog, cat, bird, rabbit, rodent or turtle that’s kept in the home for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes, can travel in commercial carriers and be housed in temporary facilities. Pets do not include reptiles (except turtles), amphibians, fish, insects, farm animals (including horses), and animals kept for racing purposes.
Pet-friendly shelters are co-located with some general population ones and ideally a humane society representative is present. To enter, pets must be caged in their own carrier. Owners without carriers will be asked to leave their animals in their vehicle, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said. They must also provide water and food for their pet, he added.
Those with prohibited pets should make other sheltering arrangements or find a way to keep their animals safe at home. Other accommodations include emergency pet care facilities, veterinarian offices, boarding facilities and even pet-friendly hotels.
Pet owners who aren’t prepared or wait too long may make an already difficult situation more challenging or heartbreaking, experts said. More than 6,000 animals were rescued after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf States in 2005 and thousands died or were left homeless, according to the Military Times.
“For a lot of people, their pets are members of their family. Past natural disasters on the mainland have shown us what has happened when pet owners have not planned accordingly for such events,” Oliveira said. “There have been those who have chosen to ride whatever emergency out and not evacuate because of a lack of a better choice and not wanting to abandon their pets. By having a plan and the right provisions in place, families will not only stay together and keep all of their members safe, but also avoid the tragic loss of pets.”