Thankfully, Hurricane Dorian created less havoc on the east coast than residents feared. Sadly, the people and animals in the Bahamas did not fare as well. As I write this, 50 people are reported dead with the death toll expected to climb. In this incredibly sad story, Grand Bahama Humane Society workers describe their heartbreak over losing 90 dogs and cats in the flooding. I can’t imagine. The workers did their best to save the animals in their care; however, they needed to save their own lives as well. No information was available as to how many horses resided on the Bahama islands. The wild horses of North Carolina apparently handled the storm quite well.Recap of Part One
In Part One of this series, I discussed some of the details of evacuation that a horse owner would need to have in place for a successful outcome. First and foremost, I stressed the need to have an evacuation plan ready and leave while there is still time. I discussed having a trailer ready to go, identifying and medical information available for each horse, and a plan for communicating with others and reaching emergency contacts.
Feedback on the initial post raised an interesting debate. Some criticism was levied at horse owners who did not have the ability to remove all of their horses from their property immediately. However, owners of large breeding farms or cattle ranches would understandably struggle to safely evacuate all of their livestock. A racetrack training facility lost 46 horses in the California wildfires. Some of the horses that escaped the fire found their way to the Del Mar fairgrounds. Over 800 horses ended up housed at that facility. I wrote about it here and here.
Those of us with a smaller number of horses can and should have a plan to evacuate all of our animals. But what if you can’t?
One of the first decisions a horse owner must make is whether to confine their horses or let them loose. Dennis French, DVM, professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, says to let them loose. They have good instincts, and more options for survival if they can make their own choices.
One thing we learned, dealing with hurricanes in Louisiana, regarding whether to leave horses indoors or turn them out in the face of a storm, is that turning them out is probably better. There’s always risk that a tree might fall on them, but they wouldn’t be trapped in the barn. This also applies in a flood.
Leave fresh water. Water is more critical than food, and even 5-10 gallons per horse can make a difference. Don’t rely on automatic watering systems.
The perils of a loose horse
Obviously, turning a horse loose and leaving your property is an incredibly frightening proposition. Not only do you worry about whether or not your beloved equine(s) survive the disaster, but you also wonder if you’ll ever get them back if they do! Dr. French noted that after hurricanes Rita and Katrina, many loose and unattended horses were stolen. As previously stated, you should have readily available identifying information, including photos of you and your horse, to help you reclaim him. Microchipping, freeze marking, brands and tattoos help, but they have limitations. I wrote about microchipping here and here.
This article, mentioned in Part One, suggests several methods for identifying your horse. You can body clip your phone number into his coat. Apparently, some owners have tried writing their phone numbers on hooves with markers. I wouldn’t want to be trying to do that on a terrified horse. Would a phone number written in magic marker survive standing or wading through water for hours or days? The article also suggests banding a pastern or throatlatch. There is a throatlatch band available for purchase. I believe it only provides space for a phone number. Lastly, it suggests weaving a tag into the horse’s mane… an identification method that makes sense to me.ID MyHorse Emergency Identification Tags
ID MyHorse Emergency Identification Tags have two card inclusions that provide a significant amount of space to write all the information needed to get your horse home. Additionally, if the tag is braided high on the mane, and your horse’s head is above water, it will be visible! The cards are enclosed in plastic to help them stay dry. Obviously, if they are exposed to deep water for a prolonged period of time, they might get wet, but the leather will protect the paper from degradation. (We recommend adding a rubber band around the tag keeper if your horse is going to wear the tag for a prolonged period of time, and/or he is particularly active!)
I previously mentioned some suggestions for communication, but another option is to search out organizations like the Horse Emergency Evacuation Team, or H.E.E.T. Facebook is an incredible networking tool. What groups are available in your area? And don’t forget the NextDoor App. This free app allows for sharing and communication with any size group of neighbors. Organizations such as the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and some universities have resources available to assist horse owners in making disaster evacuation plans.
There is a significant amount of information available about disaster preparedness. Stay tuned for more suggestions in the future. In the meantime, make your own disaster plan now!