LoveToKnow recently talked to emergency preparedness expert, Ines de Pablo, about preparing for hurricane season when you own small pets. She holds a Masters in Risk, Crisis and Emergency Management. Hurricane Katrina's lost and injured pets inspired her to start an emergency planning company, Wag'N Enterprises. She lectures and teaches all over the country about handling pets during emergencies.
About Ines de Pablo
LoveToKnow (LTK): Tell us a little about yourself and how you first grew interested in emergency preparedness for pets?
Ines de Pablo (IDP): I was born and raised in Switzerland. Switzerland mandates the presence and maintenance of fallout shelters for every resident. This is why most buildings constructed since the 1960s incorporate a fallout shelter. We always had enough food supplies for the entire family and kept the extra dog food in that cool environment. One of my parent's dogs was so afraid of thunder and fireworks that the fallout shelter was her hide-out shelter on stormy nights.
With that in mind, preparedness was always there in my life, and the pets were always included, of course. My academic background in emergency management in addition to my "Katrina Rage" made me rethink both the individual and governmental approach to how a pet owner, in a nation with very few fallout shelters and sporadic warning systems, can effectively mitigate, prepare and respond to both man-made and natural disasters.
Preparing for Hurricane Season
LTK: Hurricane season is upon us. What can the owner of a small pet (rabbit, ferret, snake, fish) do to prepare for the worst?
IDP: Let me give you one rule as an answer: "Five Step Process: Accept. Plan. Rehearse. Adapt. Rehearse again."
The first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. In other words, you are more likely to prepare for something you think can happen to you. Every one of your readers is at risk for a residential fire or gas leak at a very minimum. What's your two a.m. plan for a house fire?
Planning for the worst and hoping for the best is my recommended approach. After you accept that something can happen to you, and after you start thinking of a plan, rehearse the plan. A non-rehearsed plan is a terrible plan. Once you practice, you will find weaknesses, and will have to adjust/tweak a few things. Then rehearse again. The only constant in life is change.
LTK: What types of emergency supplies would you put into a kit for a pet rabbit, for example, and for how many days?
IDP: At a strict minimum prepare for 72 hours as recommended by the government, better to plan for a week. For a pet rabbit I would get the following ready:
- Proof of vaccinations
- Proof of ownership (picture of your entire family members with animal, different angles)
- Microchip your rabbit
- Lost pet poster (prepared in advance as your access to working photocopy machines may be slightly challenged during a crisis)
- Paper maps - know where to go
- Emergency phone numbers (out of state contact)
- Food and water
- Litter and litter box
- Hard portable crate and its normal contents (replenishment for seven days)
- Trash bags
- Food dish and water dish
- Toys or something to keep the pet busy
- Soap/shampoo in case your rabbit is exposed to flood waters or anything dirty that could compromise its health
- First aid kit
- Collar with ID Tag (with updated cell phone and/or emergency contact info)
LTK: Emergency veterinary care can be difficult after a hurricane hits. Any thoughts on how to make sure your pet gets the help it needs?
IDP: First and foremost you are your pet's 911! So get pet first aid training. Whenever you plan for the worst, map out several destinations (away from the path of doom). Along all those routes and at your final destination, find out now where specialized veterinarians are located, what small animal types they can help, their hours of operations, rates and contact information. You may have to travel several hours away from where you live to be able to access basic first aid equipment as replenishment of the locations closest to the main impact area may be impossible or delayed.
When the Storm Hits
LTK: Dogs and cats can be micro-chipped and wear a collar with tags, but how do you identify your small pet if they get lost in the chaos of everything?
IDP: Bunnies, rabbits and ferrets can also be micro chipped or wear a kitty collar. Just get a smaller tag. The glitch with that approach is reliance, meaning some shelters will not scan anything other than cats and dogs so it's a tool but it's not enough and a tag is generally a good backup.
Bird cages can be locked but try to use a code lock versus a key lock and don't let it out of your sight (or at least make sure it is always monitored). Small critter cages can and should be marked. Use a Sharpie type pen to write pet info (species, name, owner regular address) then mark on duct tape your emergency phone because this can change rapidly and duct tape performs pretty well against wear and tear and minor water exposure. Your Sharpie and your duct tape are very good friends during all types of emergencies.
LTK: Not all storm shelters allow pets. Is there a way to find out ahead of time which ones do? What should one do with a pet if there are no shelters in the area that allow for animals?
IDP: Contact your local emergency management agency.
Go to their website. Find out if they made their Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs) public. Ask for a copy. Read it! Ask them for their list of designated shelters, which animal organizations your state will call upon (American Humane, HSUS, UAN, Noah's Wish, etc.). Then contact these organizations and inquire about which animal types they will accept or have been known to accept in the past. Remember that the large organizations cannot self-deploy and need to be invited by the authorities to come in and help. So it might take a couple of days before the expert animal shelters and handlers show up.
Search hotels/motels along your evacuation routes (yes, multiple routes), and call them to ask what their pet policy is and what it will be during an emergency. Some policies may change during emergencies so it's good to ask before the emergency. Write down the name of person you talked to. Call every six months to check if rules and/or contact info has changed.
If you're staying with family or friends, make sure they know and approve of pets coming, too. That is accomplished by asking, not assuming. Too many people assumed their friends would take the dog during a crisis, got there only to get the house rules laid out excluding the pet. Many chose to leave, others were forced to abandon their pets. You can also approach camp grounds and ask about their pet policies and seasonal openings.
Transporting Small Animals
We asked Ines if she would break down how to transport a variety of small pets in case the need to evauate arises. Below, she goes through a variety of transporting options for several types of small pets.
Bird crated/cages are available in collapsible models. Less favorable, but optional are cardboard carriers. Write your name and address (regular and evacuation site) on the carrier using an indelible marker, or on a tag attached to the carrier or cage. Bird leg bands may be an option worth looking into. Keep the cage dark to lessen the stress. This can be accomplished by throwing a towel over the cage.
I have a disclaimer: Reptiles in general are not my forte. The following advice is provided based on some research and what I know most shelters will require. Which leads me to the bad news that MOST public shelters (even if manned by animal rescue groups) that will function independently, or in close proximity or together with human public shelters will not accept reptiles, especially not venomous ones.
I would strongly encourage all owners and handlers of such animals to make evacuation plans that do not rely on public shelters! Resources, facilities management and experienced handlers are just too scarce to come by. Now, given that fact please don't misunderstand this statement and leave those pets behind just because they might not be allowed in a public shelter. As an owner of such a type of pet, the pet's safety, health and wellbeing are your responsibility, but so is the greater public good and safety. Leaving these pets behind can cause significant risk to people, including rescuers and flood victims as well as the local ecosystem and other pets. You need multiple plans that take you out of town, with all the reptiles for at least a month. More time is needed because you will find it harder to get special resources and veterinary assistance in your new temporary town/area.
Snakes should first be wrapped in a cloth sack. If you've got a plain old garden snake, a pillowcase will do. That sack should then be tied off and placed inside a sturdy container that's easy to open and close with ventilation holes small enough to prevent the critter from escaping. There also must be enough room inside for the snake to lie down naturally. The box should be labeled "LIVE ANIMAL." Venomous snakes get a special tag that includes the reptile's scientific name and a pictorial warning label.
If you must take your fish, a Styrofoam cooler lined with a heavy black garbage bag works well to hold your fish for transport. If you evacuate to the same place every time and it is possible, you might want to keep a basic aquarium setup there that can be used while you're in residence. Remember that if you leave your fish behind the tank filter will stop working as soon as you lose power. If you elect to leave the fish behind, make sure to hook up the tank to an outdoor generator, which is not the best plan as I can see it flying away or being stolen. Another option is to go to PetSmart and pick up a battery powered air pump and a battery operated feeder that holds enough food for at least two weeks.
Bunnies, Rabbits, Ferrets and Small Furry Critters Transport
Transport the same as cat, in their crates (that you already accustomed them to after reading this story). Take enough food and water for at least a week, or two weeks to be safe. To know how much water they need per day, measure how much water they drink on a normal day, multiply by three and then by seven or 14 days (when stressed we tend to drink more, animals too. The water can also be used to wash them or keep them cool). You know how much they eat per day, multiply by 14 days. Always, make sure your pet gets used to the transport crate and the car motion by taking them on rides occasionally.
Are You Prepared?
No matter what type of small pet you own, make sure you're prepared for a hurricane or other natural disaster that might befall your area. Using the tools provided by Ines de Pablo, you should be able to safely evacuate your entire family, including pets, should an emergency arise.