By Sue Wilson, American Red Cross Board Member & Communications Volunteer Partner
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans years ago, it was reported that more than 10,000 people refused evacuation because they didn’t want to leave their pets behind. Some of those people, and their pets, became casualties. When reporters asked survivors who didn’t evacuate why they would risk their lives for their pets, they said things like, “They are part of my family.” Or, “My pet is my kid; would you leave your kid behind?”
It’s a situation many animal lovers understand. And a situation many community leaders have considered to save lives of both pets and people.
The truth is, if it’s not safe for you to stay home, it’s not safe for your pet either. As we recognize World Animal Day (October 4), we recommend that as you make your emergency plans for your family in the event of a home fire, weather emergency or any disaster that might require you to leave your home, it is important that you include arrangements for your pet in those plans.
While the American Red Cross has historically not allowed pets in shelters, mainly for health and sanitation reasons, they work with local and regional animal agencies that operate shelters that would keep pets and their people if not together then nearby. In our area, the Red Cross works with an organization called CARE.
“If we had a shelter opened, we would rely upon them to set up a pet shelter adjacent to the evacuation shelter,” said Debbie Chitester, disaster program manager for the Summit, Portage and Medina Counties Chapter “They have the equipment, supplies and volunteers to do that.”
Debbie also encourages people to have a plan for their pets.
“Think ahead to family or friends who may be able to take care of your pet,” she explained. “Talk with a vet or a boarding facility ahead of time to see if they have a plan and would be able to accept your pet,” she suggests. If a pet owner does not have any other place to take their pets, she said the Red Cross would activate the CARE team to set up a shelter for them. You can call your local Red Cross office to ask what shelters are available for your pet if needed.
As you put your emergency plan and supply kit together for your family,make sure you have a separate one for your pet. Your pet emergency kit should include:
- Sturdy leashes, harnesses and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that they can’t escape.
- Food, drinking water, bowls, cat litter/pan and a manual can opener if your pet eats canned food. Use plastic/waterproof bins to keep dry food dry and free of mold or bugs.
- Medications and copies of medical records stored in a waterproof container.
- A first aid kit.
- Current photos of you with your pet(s) in case they get lost. Since many pets look alike, this will help eliminate mistaken identity and confusion.
- Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavioral problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
- Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable.
Knowing you have a plan for your family, including your beloved pet(s), will give you peace of mind should a situation ever arise where you need to evacuate your home. Click HERE for more information about preparing pets (and people) for emergencies.