By Dr. Will Draper, DVM
If you’re like me – and 50 percent of American households – you probably have some furry, four-footed, winged, webbed or scaly family members. No, your 102-year-old great uncle doesn’t count. These family members are commonly referred to as “pets” by the other 50 percent of American households.
To pet parents, they are so much more than just domesticated animals. They are best friends and constant companions. We let them sleep in our beds, dictate our schedules and (although we know we shouldn’t) sneak a bite from the table now and then. When we’ve had a tough day or life has beaten us down, there’s nothing more heart warming than coming home to someone who will show you unconditional love.
It’s no wonder separation anxiety can set in after just a day away from our pets, hence bring your dog to work days and pet-friendly hotels. We don’t like to be without our pets, but sometimes we have to be.
Every responsible pet owner plans for his or her pet before they take a vacation or head out on a business trip. We make sure all our pets’ needs are met before we board the plane or load up the minivan.
But what if you were leaving town for a different reason? Imagine a flood is heading your way and city officials are telling you to evacuate to the nearest shelter right now. The shelter doesn’t accept pets and there’s absolutely no way you’re leaving Spike, Mittens or Polly behind. What would you do?
Unfortunately that situation is all too common during floods and other natural disasters. But it doesn’t need to come down to an unimaginable decision. While we can’t control the weather, we can control our response to it. You and your pet can be Ready for the unexpected by taking a few simple steps today: prepare, plan and stay informed.
Step one: Prepare by creating a Ready kit for your pet. Start with items to meet your pets’ basic needs and build from there. Fill a water proof container with the following:
- Food. Keep at least a three day supply in an airtight, waterproof container
- Water. Store at least a three supply for each pet.
- Medicines and medical records. Have an extra supply medicines and copies of medical records in a waterproof container.
- First aid kit. Good basics to include are cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape and scissors, antibiotic ointment, flea and tick prevention and latex gloves.
- Collar with ID tag, harness or leash.
- Crate or pet carrier. You may need one to transport your pet if you have to evacuate. Make sure it’s large enough for your pet to stand up, turn around and lie down.
- Sanitation items. Put extra litter and a litter box, shavings or newspapers in your kit in case you need to leave home. Plastic trash bags, bleach and paper towels are a good idea too.
- A picture of you and your pet together. If you get separated it can help with identification.
- Familiar items. Favorite toys, treats or bedding will help reduce stress for your pet.
Step two: Make a plan. If you have to evacuate, it will greatly reduce your stress level if you already know where to take your pet. Remember, most public shelters don’t accept pets, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Try these:
- Locate a boarding facility near your shelter.
- Locate veterinary hospitals near your shelter in case your pet needs medical care. In many cases, hospitals offer boarding too.
- Set up a buddy system with an out-of-town friend or relative. In the event of an emergency in your area, you and your pet have a safe place to go, and the same applies to your buddies.
- Find pet-friendly hotels along your evacuation route.
Step three: Stay informed about what disasters could affect your area and how you and your pet should respond to each. For example, know when to shelter in place with your pet and when to evacuate. Be aware of what’s going in your area and listen to authorities. If you have to leave, grab your pet, its Ready kit and go.
You might be wondering how zoos prepare for emergencies, since you seem to have a small one at your house. With three cats and three dogs of my own, believe me, it can be done. Collecting some extra supplies, doing a little research into evacuation routes and visiting www.ready.ga.gov to find out how to respond to different types of disasters is the least we can do for the ones who bring so much joy to our lives.
If they had opposable thumbs, you know your pet would do the same for you.
Pet preparedness is a crucial part of responsible pet ownership. If you’re looking for something to do this Saturday, try spending some time with your four-legged best friend and preparing him or her for whatever might come your way.
Dr. Will Draper, DVM grew up in Inglewood, California and earned his veterinary medical degree from Tuskegee University. Practicing for almost 18 years, Dr. Will was recently honored as one of Atlanta’s “Best Vets” in the February 2009 issue of Atlanta Magazine. His areas of interest include dermatology, internal medicine and surgery. Married to his classmate, Dr. Françoise Tyler, they have four children, three dogs (Gypsy, Harley and Angel) and three cats (Fagen, ZigZag and Caleb).
(photo credits: Maltipoo by JJZ / Black Labrador Retriever by OakleyOriginals / Dachshund by t-dawg / Standard Poodles by Karen James / Jack Russell Terrier by sarah … / Pet rescue Hurricane Katrina by smiteme)