September is National Preparedness Month, during which the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the US Department of Homeland Security tries to raise awareness on how and why you should be prepared for an emergency. While this includes natural disasters like earthquake and hurricanes, people are also reminded emergencies can also include biological threats, chemical spills or contaminations, radiation, terrorist attacks or any other events that can mean an evacuation of your home or mass destruction and casualties.
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States, thousands upon thousands of pets were left homeless and helpless. While some were reunited with families desperately seeking them, more were sent to safer areas of the country where they were adopted out and separated from their loving families. The sheer scope of the tragedy made protecting human lives difficult and costly, and is a reminder of why it's so important to make sure you have a plan in place for not only your family, but for your dogs as well.
Make an emergency traveling kit that contains everything you need to gather for your pet at a moment's notice. (Suitcase-sized duffel bags are ideal for this, as they are both large and light-weight.) Include at least a week's supply of food, spare collars, leashes or harnesses, bottles of water, extra food dishes, and some toys. Ask your vet for copies of your dogs' medical records, and keep them sealed in a waterproof bag in case you're forced to go to another vet for medical attention. If your dog is on any prescription medications, ask your vet about the best way to keep an emergency supply on hand. If possible, have an extra crate or carrier on hand, and include towels and blankets. In cold areas, a loss of heat or power can be deadly; even if your dog doesn't regularly wear clothing, it never hurts to have a doggie jacket and boots on hand. In areas that can flood, keep a life vest on hand as well.
Find out where your pet is going to go in case of evacuation. Some shelters are more concerned for caring for the human lives they save, and simply don't have room or resources for pets. Make arrangements at a local boarding facility or with a veterinarian; if this isn't possible, choose a few caregivers that would be willing to put your pet up in their home if need be.
Talk to a trusted friend, family member or neighbor, and let them know that in case of an emergency, you would like them to take care of your dog on a temporary basis. In case of a widespread disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, make sure one of these caregivers is located out of the immediate area and would not be impacted by the same evacuation.
Make sure your dog is microchipped. In case you're separated, one of the first things a rescue shelter or vet will do is check for a microchip. Be sure all your information is up to date; it's easy to change a phone number or address and forget to update your pet's information. Most shelters microchip animals before they are adopted out, but it's the new owner's responsibility to update that information. It's always a good idea to have a tag with your dog's name, address and a contact phone number, but collars can come off easily - especially in the chaos of a disaster. Microchipping is a much more permanent way to identify your dog.
Many disasters mean the loss of some basic necessities -- water, electricity, and food. Even if your dog is on a regular diet of fresh foods and raw meats, be sure to have cans on hand in case your regular food supply is cut off. Rotate cans on a regular basis, and keep an eye on expiration dates.
The ASPCA offers a free Pet Safety Pack. Tell them how many animals are in your home, and they will send you window stickers to place in a highly visible spot telling firefighters or police officers how many pets are in the home and who they should be looking for. In case you're not home to tell them, this information could save your pets lives. If you have already gotten your pets out of the house in case of an emergency, mark the stickers to indicate so.
Make sure that the whole family is aware of the emergency plan not only for them, but for your dogs. Their lives may depend on it.