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Pets and Disasters: Making a Plan

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June is Pet Preparedness Month!

According to statistics, nearly 65 percent of all homes have at least one pet, so for many families, a disaster plan needs to include these family members.

June is Pet Preparedness month and Ready.gov is urging families with pets to be prepared for a disaster before it strikes. Complete family disaster plans should include options for various situations that may result whenever a disaster has occurred, including for evacuations, sheltering-in-place, boarding, or traveling long distances.

If ordered to evacuate, most families are unwilling to leave their pets behind and often refuse to evacuate without them, which can place everyone in danger. That said, being prepared is the key to safety for pets and their owners.

Identification is crucial to reunification

One of the most critical pieces of a plan is identification for the pet. Microchipping provides a way to permanently identify an animal, is relatively inexpensive, and cannot be lost. A collar with the pet's name and at least one family phone number embroidered or sewn on it makes identification easier, and collar tags provide another option.

All identification should provide the pet's name, family name, and one or more contact phone numbers. Most microchip companies provide websites (recovery databases) where emergency contact information for the owner can be listed, usually for free. Identification is crucial to being reunited with a pet if it is separated from family members.

Beyond identification, several other items should be included in the family emergency plan to accommodate the needs of pets.

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Veterinarian records

Updated, current vaccination records that includes the veterinarian's name and number, and a list of any current medications will be required if boarding of the pet is necessary. It may also be required for admittance to shelters allowing pets.

Leashes, crates, or another type of carrier are also essential to keeping pets safe and preventing them from running away. The inclusion of familiar toys or bedding will often help reduce anxiety for the pet.

Preparing a Pet Emergency Kit

A family disaster plan should also include a pet emergency kit with essential items such as food, water, bags for picking up waste, and/or a litter pan or box, bowls for feeding and drinking, medications (in a water proof container with medical paperwork) and a pet first aid kit. Ready.gov recommends preparing these items ahead of time to be certain quantities of medicines, food, and water are sufficient to last at least seven to ten days after a disaster.

It is also necessary to plan ahead about where the family will go if it needs to leave the area. Many evacuation shelters will not accept pets, and hotels usually have size and weight restrictions, so be sure to call ahead -- before a disaster occurs -- to find out which places can accommodate the family and its pet(s).

It's a good idea to locate veterinarians or emergency vet clinics outside the area in case of an evacuation or if other issues arise during or after a disaster. It may also be helpful to contact friends and relatives to see if they would be willing to accommodate the family and its pet(s) in an emergency.

A few more good ideas

Many storms damage or destroy infrastructure, including electricity and phone service, so having the name and address, along with the phone number of pet shelters, veterinarians, and emergency clinics on a printed list in the disaster preparedness kit is important. Including a photo of family members with pets can also help with identification and proof of ownership should the pet be separated from the family during a disaster.

For many people, pets are members of the family, having a plan in place that includes the necessary information and supplies for a disaster can help reduce stress and keep everyone safe. Commit now to making an emergency plan that includes the family pet(s), and be prepared before the next disaster strikes.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.