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Keeping the WHOLE Family Safe During Disasters

The phrase "Hell or High Water" has been on my mind these last few weeks as I read the news headlines. First, wildfires are eating up big portions of Montana, Oregon and California. Then, we see the flooding due to Hurricane Harvey and we can only imagine what Irma is going to bring to Florida today. The loss of homes and damage to property is astonishing, but it's the people and the animals that really catch our attention as we scroll through our social media feeds and see their images on TV.

Whether we are talking about hurricanes or tornados, chemical spills or wildfires, disasters can come to almost any part of our country. Having a good solid plan to evacuate is necessary and it is vital that this plan includes the four-legged, winged or scaly members of your family! How can you best prepare to keep your pets safe if you have to evacuate your home?

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it was very apparent that we, as a nation, needed to address the concerns evacuating people had when it came to their pets. The answer came the following year with the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, or PETS Act. This new law mandates that any state who expects help from the federal government during and after a disaster, must make provisions for the accommodations and transportation of people's pets. Despite what you are seeing on Facebook right now, this does NOT mean that all hotels and shelters are required to take pets during these chaotic times.

So, it's really up to YOU to make sure your furry friends are safe. I spoke to Dr. Jennifer Hennessey of the Animal ER of Northwest Houston and she told me that the biggest thing she saw during Hurricane Harvey was that people did not adequately prepare for the amount of time they and their pets would be gone. She says that most people were thinking they would be back in their homes after the weekend and it ended up being longer than a week in many cases. Far too many pets did not have enough food or important medications during their evacuation.

Your pet's evacuation kit should contain the following items:

  • Enough food (dry and/or canned) and water for 1-2 weeks

  • Water and food bowls

  • Liquid soap for clean up

  • Chronic medications for 1-2 weeks (such as thyroid pills, seizure meds, insulin, etc)

  • Paper towels

  • Proof of ownership, such as a high resolution picture and microchip information

  • Current vaccination records

  • Emergency contact list including local animal emergency hospitals and possible shelter sites

  • Cage or crate that is large enough for your pet to lie down comfortably. If you have a cat, consider a cage large enough that a shoe box could be used as a litter box inside.

  • Cat litter

  • Leash and collar/harness for proper restraint

  • "Comfort" items, such as a favored blanket or sweatshirt.

One big thing that Dr. Hennessey reminded me was that having some sort of favorite chew toy or play item is really helpful. Playing ball with your dog while the power is out will help keep his mind and your mind off of the situation and, like we always say, a tired dog is a good dog!

Many of you are looking to help the people and animals effected by these incredible disasters. For Hurricane Harvey, the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation is a great place to start. As with all disasters, cash donations go a LONG way, but I know it often feels GOOD to donate something else. Local efforts across the country need bottled water, pet food, cleaning supplies, diapers and baby wipes. Your local American Red Cross chapter or Salvation Army group are likely looking for support as you read this.

For the wildfires in Montana, a local shelter in Helena has set up a donations page for affected pets.

To help livestock and families affected by the fires in Montana, the 406 Family Aid Foundation has set up a page.

As we know more about the effects of Hurricane Irma, we will update this page. For now, keep all these folks, both human and animal, in your thoughts and prayers.

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