The recent triple crisis in Japan—a near-record earthquake, a devastating tsunami, and radioactive discharges from damaged nuclear power plants—underscores the importance of being prepared for natural disasters and other events that require evacuations. What we often don’t see during the round-the-clock news coverage is the toll that these emergencies take on cats, dogs, and other companion animals, as well as their loving guardians.
Floods, wildfires, and other disasters are out of our control, but there are steps that can be taken well in advance to make sure that you and your animals are prepared for the worst. First, make sure that your animals’ health records, tags, and microchip information are current, and place emergency window stickers near your front and back doors alerting first responders to the presence of animals inside your home in case of a fire or other emergency. Once the disaster strikes and you’re forced to leave your home, never leave animals behind. If the area isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your animals either.
Prepare a list of hotels that accept animals and reserve a room as soon as you think an evacuation is possible. Many hotels relax their “no pets” policies during disasters, but you should call ahead to make sure. Also, prepare a travel kit that includes your animals’ favorite toys (to ease anxiety) and an adequate supply of food. You should have a leash and collar with current tags on your dog and a sturdy carrier for cats. (you can purchase a rescue kit to help other animals you may find here.)
While we hope that it will never be the case, if the authorities force you to evacuate without your animal companions, leave them in a secure area inside your home with access to the upper floors so that they can escape flood waters. Be sure to leave enough fresh water and dry food for several days in multiple containers on the upper floors in case some containers should spill. If you do not have chemical disinfectants in your toilet, leave the lid up for one more source of water. If there is anyone who can reach your home, have them check on the animals and, if possible, evacuate them to safety.
For more tips, including a step-by-step guide on preparing for a disaster, what to do with your animals during an emergency evacuation, and what you can do if the authorities force you to leave your animals behind, please see “Will Your Animal Companions Be Protected in a Disaster?”