by Perry Jameson, DVM and Henri Blanucci, DVM
Question: We have three Beagles that are an important part of our family. Last year during the evacuation for Hurricane Floyd, we, of course, took all of them with us. Unfortunately, we waited until the last minute and were scrambling to get everything together for them and ourselves. This year we are going to plan in advance and be better prepared. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Answer: Preparing ahead for pets is the key to reducing the stress of the situation and to being able to react quickly to escape a storm.
Identification: All of your pets should have neck collars or harnesses with rabies tags and pet ID tags. Ideally all pets should also have more permanent IDs that cannot be lost. The best is an injected microchip that contains information that most shelters can access with a special scanner.
Tattoos are another form of permanent identification. During the chaos of an evacuation and storm, animals easily can be lost. Identification will improve the chances of pets and owners being reunited.
Pictures: Have current pictures of all pets. These could be used when asking others if they have seen the lost pets and as proof the animals belong to the owners.
Important documents: Pets' rabies certificates and health records should be carried during the evacuation. The rabies certificate is required to prove vaccination status. The health records might be necessary to aid in health care if the animal needs help while away from its family veterinarian. Also, records left at home could be destroyed in a storm.
Medications: Try to have at least one week's worth of the pet's medication available. Owners may want to have their pet's doctor write a prescription for one week's worth so that if they run out while they're away they could go to a pharmacy out of town to get enough medication until they return.
Food: Carry enough food for at least seven days in a watertight container. Evacuees do not know how long they will be away or if food will be available where they are going.
Water: Carry enough fresh water for several days.
Bowls: Carry enough bowls for food and water for each pet.
Leashes: Always have leashes because many cities where evacuees may end up require all dogs to be on a leash. Also, leashes are a good idea for cats. If a cat jumps from its owner's arms or escapes from a carrier, the animal will be much easier to catch.
Carriers/kennels: Have kennels available for all cats and small dogs. Cats travel much better in the car if they are confined. Also, when staying in strange places, they will feel safer staying in a familiar enclosed space.
Toys: Bring pets' favorite toys. This will provide them with a sense of home and a distraction from all of the changes and stress.
Blankets/beds: A familiar bed or blanket to lie on will relive some of the stress of being away from home.
The most important aspect of a successful evacuation is being prepared. A kit with all of these items should be put together now before a storm threatens. In this way the owner will be less stressed.
Pets feed off of our emotions. They sense our stress, and this worsens theirs. Advanced preparation will reduce our stress and theirs.
No animal should be left at home alone during a hurricane. The owners may not be able to return for weeks, and food and water could run out quickly. Rising tides could drown trapped animals. There is no excuse for leaving a pet at home.