Disaster Preparedness: Are You Ready?

By Teresa Garden, DVM

A number of hurricanes and tornadoes have come and gone this past year. Left in the storms’ ruinous wake are shattered homes, businesses, and lives. Some will rebuild. Others will not or cannot. Could our brothers and sisters on the east coast have been better prepared for this freak-of-nature storm? Can we in the Midwest better protect ourselves from tornadoes in the spring and summer and ice storms in the winter? All of these forces of nature can deprive us of our creature comforts in a matter of minutes. No roof overhead, no water, no electricity. Can we really prepare ourselves physically or emotionally for such drastic changes in how we are accustomed to living? I do not pretend to be an expert in this subject. As a veterinarian, I can, however, offer suggestions for helping your pet during an emergency situation.

First, prepare for the foe you know. With winter upon us, I am already dreading possible ice storms or heavy snows that may bring down electrical wires and plunge us into cold and darkness. Now is the time to make sure there are plenty of fresh batteries and working flashlights and lanterns. A weather radio is a must have. Do you have alternate sources of heat such as a wood-burning stove or fireplace? Perhaps a back-up generator could be the next big purchase item for your home. Restock the pantry with non-perishable foods for yourselves and do not forget to stock up on pet food as well! Some extra gallons of water may come in handy. Do you have a land line for phone use in your home? Cell phone towers cannot be counted on to provide service in emergency situations. Make sure to have extra sweaters and coats for your family and plenty of blankets to help keep the dogs and cats warm and dry if need be. Thinking of these things in advance may allow you to ride out a storm in your own home.

But what if there is fire, flood, wind or earthquake damage so severe you have to leave your home? This is a more drastic situation which calls for advanced planning. Especially if you have pets. Most of our pets are creatures of habits and can become very scared or confused when our lives are turned upside down in an instant. They may run, escape or hide at the very same time we may need to ready them for safe travel to a new destination. Make sure your dog will come to you when called. This is a command you will want your dog to obey before any emergency becomes a reality. Many cats will not come when called by name, so be prepared to find kitty in her favorite hiding place. Are your pets microchipped? This is still the best form of pet ID since it is permanent, safe, and very reliable. Unfortunately, you may become separated from your pets in a true disaster and a microchip is still the best chance you have at being reunited with your furry loved ones. Well-fitting collars, harnesses, and leashes are needed for the control and safety of your pets. And although collars may come off, it is still prudent to have name and phone number information tags attached to them.

Carriers are needed for every pet you have including dogs, cats, birds, and pocket pets. This will be the safest way to transport them in the car since many of our pets do not travel without anxiety and fear. Feliway spray for cats and DAP collars for pooches can alleviate their fears. Rescue Remedy will help decrease stress and anxiety in pets and people. Vaccine certificates and medications for pets should be taken with you if possible. If time allows, stock the car with pet food, water and food bowls, and cleaning supplies. An emergency kit, flashlights, and extra blankets make good traveling companions.

It is important to know in advance your options on where to go with your pets. Are there friends or family who can accommodate you and your pets? Is there a kennel you are familiar with who could board your pets in an emergency? Do you know hotels or motels that are pet friendly? Do they have restrictions on the size or number of pets? If a hotel or motel is your destination, please consider some pets may freak out if left alone in a strange place. They could damage property or even injure themselves. Please remember, pets cannot be left in a car in extreme temperatures Heat stroke can occur in a matter of minutes. There is also a danger of hypothermia ensuing if left in a car in cold weather.

None of us know what the future holds. Hopefully, you will never have to employ any of these measures. But it does not hurt to try to anticipate and plan for inclement weather or other emergencies. But for the grace of God, we can find ourselves in the same predicament as those who faced the big storms this past year.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area. Visit online at AnimalHealthandHealing.com; or call 314-781-1738.