Natural disasters—fires, hurricanes, earthquakes—seem to be coming fast and furious these days. I was living in the British Virgin Islands in 2017, when Hurricanes Irma and Maria steamrolled us, destroying animal shelters along with 85 percent of housing. Residents had to evacuate in a hurry, and many pets got left behind. In California, where I live now, during the record-breaking wildfires of 2018, there were dogs, cats, horses, and even llamas needing rescue. When disaster strikes, things move quickly. Include your pets in your emergency planning to ensure all your loved ones get through it safely.
1. Create an evacuation plan that includes your pets, and create an emergency kit that includes a travel crate, a several-day supply of food and water, a leash, poop bags, and any medication your pet may need. Evacuation centers and hotels differ in their policies for taking in pets. Plan ahead by locating pet-friendly hotels in your area, and check with the local Red Cross chapter to find out how pets are handled at evacuation centers. Keep these lists with your kit. It’s the law that FEMA must have pet evacuation measures in place, and 30 states have adopted plans. Check out petfriendlytravel.com/pet_shelters for detailed, state-by-state info about emergency pet evacuation.
2. If you live with roommates or other family members, assign one person primary responsibility for making sure your pets are gathered up, put into crates, and loaded into your vehicle or shelter. Pets are going to feel the anxiety of the situation. Vets recommend wrapping your animal in a blanket (keep one in your emergency kit), and staying as calm as you can.
3. If you do lose your pet during a disaster or evacuation, let everyone in your area know and post pictures on social media. My BVI friends’ beloved kitten disappeared during the hurricane, and they posted everywhere, letting us all know to keep an eye out. Two and a half months later, they were reunited! Keep your pet collared with your contact info and be sure to have it microchipped, to help with location post-disaster.
4. Consider keeping others’ pets safe by helping with animal rescue efforts. Humane Society International helped evacuate animals from the islands when the shelters were destroyed. They do great work. Familiarize yourself with the local chapter, sign up to be an animal rescue volunteer (humanesociety.org/disaster-relief), or donate money or supplies to local shelters in disaster areas.
Story by Christine Perakis / Illustration by Rachel Wada
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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