The scruffy-looking dog without a collar almost didn't make it. Sixty days after the hurricane had hit he was still lingering at the Suncoast Humane Society in Englewood, Florida, waiting for his family to claim him.
But that morning in 2004, on a whim, Debra Parsons-Drake, executive director at Suncoast, decided that the aging pooch would be one of the dogs featured on a live news segment designed to showcase animals that had been displaced during the storm. A few minutes after the segment ended, Parsons-Drake received an anxious phone call-the dog's guardian had seen the program and she was eager to be reunited with the family's beloved pet. It was the same day that her 9-year-old son was scheduled to see a therapist to help him deal with their personal tragedy. The family had lost everything-everything, except their dog.
Expect the unexpected. The phrase is repeated so often that it has lost its power and gravity. Does anyone really expect, let alone plan for, that one day when their home, vehicle, possessions, and all means of communication will suddenly be gone? Does anyone expect to find themselves in the same position as that poor family in Florida?
Yet that's what happens to many people every year during hurricane and tornado season. No matter where you live, the unexpected can occur. Disasters come in all forms. From blizzards to wildfires, earthquakes to hurricanes, terrorist attacks to floods, emergencies occur in all parts of the country, which means that everyone should have a disaster plan for their family-including one for pets.
"It's crucial to make plans ahead of time to ensure your pets' safety in times of emergency," says Betsy McFarland, HSUS director of communications for the Companion Animals section. "Whether it's a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, you must have a plan in place. Pets depend on their caregivers to provide for their safety and well being. Putting a disaster plan into place is just part of being a good pet caregiver."
Remember that good disaster planning takes every possibility into consideration. For example, traffic accidents involving hazardous trucks can close streets and neighborhoods many miles away. What will you do if you can't get home to care for your pet? Make plans ahead of time. Arrange for a trusted neighbor who is frequently at home to evacuate your pets if an evacuation order is issued and you are at work. Keep a three-day supply of your pet's food, medicines, leash, veterinary records, and other necessities altogether in a pet carrier that's ready to go.
Many disasters occur without warning. But if advance notice is given-whether it's two days or two hours-always take the necessary precautions. "We recommend that people err on the safe side when it comes to their animal's and their own safety," says Suncoast's Parsons-Drake. "During the hurricanes in 2004 many people said that they waited too long to get out of the area, and by the time the storm was there they couldn't find their animals."
Parsons-Drake also suggests that, in the case of a severe weather alert, pet guardians should put a piece of duct tape on their animal's collar with the name and number of a friend or relative living out of state since disasters can wipe out landlines and cell phone service for several days. "We could have saved so many more animals if people would have realized that all forms of communication can completely shut down indefinitely, making it nearly impossible for people to contact you."
Horse guardians are equally susceptible to disasters, particularly barn fires. A new booklet from the Humane Society of the United States, Making Your Horse Barn Fire Safe, will help horse owners prevent tragedy and protect their horses and barns from tragedy. The booklet can be downloaded or purchased for a small fee.
These are just a few tips for those looking for information on disaster and emergency preparedness. For more information, visit The HSUS Disaster Center.
Whether it's a tornado, a traffic accident or a terrorist attack, preparedness can help save lives. Pets are part of the family, and it's imperative that they be included in all family disaster plans. Remember, they're counting on you.