June is National Pet Preparedness Month sponsored by Ready, a public service campaign launched in February 2003. Designed to educate and empower US families to prepare for, respond to, and prevent emergencies, Ready advocates for disaster preparedness by means of public education and involvement. Each week of National Pet Preparedness month focuses on a theme. In 2021, the four themes were: make a plan; build a kit; low-cost, no-cost preparedness; and teach youth about preparedness.
Many forms of emergency situations place animals at risk, each of which requires different actions to ensure pet safety. And a lot of this comes down to location. Pet owners should ask themselves what types of disasters are most common where they live and prepare specifically for how their pets will be affected in the event of such occurrences.
Susan Anderson, director of disaster response for the ASPCA National Field Response Team, emphasized the importance of preparing for the emergencies likely in your geographic location: “If you live in an area that is prone to certain natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, floods or earthquakes, you should plan and prepare accordingly. Each type of disaster requires different measures to keep your pets safe, so the best thing you can do for yourself, and your pets is to be prepared.”
But generally, speaking, pet emergencies entail any situation in which an animal is placed in harm’s way, including events in which the animal is forced to leave the safety of its main form of shelter, from a temporary evacuation to the permanent loss of home. To ensure pet safety, pet owners can prepare by preparing an animal emergency kit, creating an emergency plan, and practicing before disaster strikes.
Meet the Experts: Susan Anderson of the ASPCA and Amber Batteiger of American Humane
Susan Anderson is the current director of disaster response for the ASPCA national field response team. She has also worked as an animal control manager for Clark County, Washington and has served as the volunteer coordinator for the Furry Friends pet therapy program for over twelve years.
Anderson has degrees in psychology (BS) and public administration (MPA) from Oregon State University and Columbia Southern University, respectively.
Amber Batteiger is the disaster and cruelty response program director of the American Humane rescue team.
For the past eight years, she has also volunteered in the adoptions division of Miami Dade Animal Services. Amber Batteiger holds degrees in communications (BS) from the University of North Florida and public administration (MPA) from Florida Atlantic University.
How to Prepare for Pet Emergencies
In the event of pet emergencies, remember the airplane safety presentation: put your own oxygen mask on first. Once your figurative oxygen mask is secured, tend to your loved ones, including your animal friends.
As soon as you notice an emergency situation unfolding, get your pet inside. Anderson advises, “Always bring pets indoors at the first sign or warning of a disaster as pets can become disoriented and wander away from home in a crisis.”
And if disaster strikes and you are forced to leave your home, prepare to take your pet with you. In emergency situations that call for evacuation, Batteiger urges pet owners, “First and foremost, never leave your pets behind if you are forced to evacuate. Our pets are family and rely on us for safety and security.”
Anderson concurs: “The ASPCA urges pet owners to always bring their pets with them if they are forced to evacuate,” she said. “Never leave your pets behind or tether animals to poles or trees, which prevents them from escaping high waters and getting to safe areas.”
So now that we know what not to do, let’s take a look at measures to take to for the well-being of your pet in an emergency situation.
To prepare for the event of natural or man-made disaster, Ready advises having emergency kits on hand not only for the human members of your family but for your pets, too.
Emergency Checklists for Pet Safety
Both the ASPCA and American Humane offer emergency checklists to help pet owners know what to do to ensure their pet’s safety before, during, and after a disaster.
In general, the ASPCA suggests pet owners follow these four steps:
Get a pet rescue alert sticker (write evacuated on it if time allows and you leave with your pet)
Arrange a safe haven
Choose designated caregivers
Prepare emergency supplies and traveling kits
Items three and four on this list are especially important considering that most emergency shelters do not accept animals. Finding a safe haven for yourself may not include your pet, so knowing who can care for your animal and having the necessary items packed and ready to hand off is essential.
Pet caregivers are often friends and relatives outside of the disaster area. Your veterinarian may also have a list of kennels and boarding facilities. Your local animal shelter may provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets, and hotels or motels outside of the disaster zone may accept pets as well.
The ASPCA also has a detailed downloadable disaster prep checklist that includes nine areas of preparedness when it comes to pet wellbeing and safety in emergencies: food and water; medications; carrier; comfort items; sanitation; leash; shelter; pet first aid kit; and action plan.
Following suit, American Humane’s checklist includes actions to take in three broad categories:
Water, food, medications
The organization also gives detailed advice on their web page Pet Disaster Preparedness, which includes what to do before, during, and after major storms.
Creating Emergency Kits for Animals
Like emergency kits for people, those for animals should include basic first aid and survival items as well as food, medications, and waste disposal materials.
What might not be as obvious to include in your pet “Evac-Pack” are things like pet feeding dishes and bowls; extra collars, harnesses, and leashes; a pet travel bag, carrier, sleeping crate, or kennel; treats and toys; cage liners; and copies of medical records sealed in waterproof containers.
An essential bit of advice that Anderson gave is with regard to food. She suggests storing three to seven days’ worth of canned, pop-top, or dry food and to be sure to rotate it regularly so that your emergency kit doesn’t have expired food in the event that you have to use it. The same goes for items like medication and bottled water.
Batteiger added instructions for feeding and administering medication, registration, and microchip information.
For cat owners, other items that come in handy are aluminum roasting pans (light, cheap) to use as disposable litter trays, pillowcases, and scoopable litter.
Above all, no matter what you manage to get into that evac-pack, make sure it’s in a place that has easy access in the event of a disaster: “Store an emergency kit and leashes as close to an exit as possible,” Anderson said. “Make sure that everyone in the family knows where it is, and that it is clearly labeled and easy to carry.”
Don’t Forget Your Pet ID
Both of our experts called out identification as the most often overlooked item in pet emergency kits. Batteiger emphasized the importance of “a current photo including you and your pet (to prove ownership), pertinent medical records, microchip information.”
“Make sure dogs and cats are microchipped and always wear collars and tags with up-to-date identification information, which is especially critical in the event of a disaster,” she said. “Your pet’s ID tag should contain their name, your telephone number, and any urgent medical needs. Be sure to also write your pet’s name, your name, and contact information on your pet’s carrier in case of an evacuation.”
National Pet Preparedness Month Resources
Educate yourself further regarding pet safety in emergency situations by visiting the resources provided by animal rescue organizations like the ASPCA and American Humane.
Anderson leaves us with this:
Following a disaster, evacuees may not be able to return home for several days, or even weeks. In addition to the immediate dangers of a disaster situation, pets left at home during an emergency will be forced to fend for themselves or wait until they are rescued. This can cause additional risks beyond those posed by flooding and high winds if they do not have enough food and water. Don’t assume that local authorities or rescue groups will be available to assist with your animals.
The ASPCA’s disaster prep checklist and additional disaster preparedness resources are available, including a downloadable PDF of the ASPCA disaster prep checklist.
Batteiger offered these final thoughts:
We consistently see the devastating impacts of owners leaving their pets behind in disasters. The best thing you can do to assist your pets, your family, your community, and first responders is to plan ahead and have your disaster preparedness plans in place before a disaster occurs.
For further information, visit the following links:
- American Humane’s Disaster Preparedness Checklist
- Pet Disaster Preparedness & Recovery | American Red CrossPrepare Your Pets for Disasters | Ready.gov
- Pet-Friendly Emergency Evacuation Hotels Near Me
To contribute to efforts to aid Ukrainian refugees with pets, please visit the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
And to get involved in animal welfare in your community, consider:
Joining a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)
Getting trained in “You Are the Help Until Help Arrives” or other free online independent study courses offered by FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute
Donating to a reputable organization of your choice through the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD)
Becoming a volunteer first responder with American Humane or another organization
Volunteering and receiving training to support disaster and preparedness efforts in your community