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Emergency Evacuations with Small Animals

In my previous two blogs, I discussed some of the logistics associated with evacuating large animals in the face of a natural disaster. Part One discusses having current vaccination and identification information on all of your horses. Additionally, it discusses the need for a working trailer and an effective method of communicating with neighbors and emergency contacts. Part Two discusses what happens if you have to leave your livestock behind. The need for visible identification on all livestock is stressed.

Have a plan in place

Evacuating with small animals is much easier than making an emergency plan for horses. Nevertheless, it is wise to have a plan in place before disaster strikes. I regularly travel with 5 dogs. Finding a place to overnight with a pack of dogs is a huge challenge. One of the first needs that should be addressed in an evacuation plan is where will we stay if we have to leave? Here is a list of websites that will help direct you to pet-friendly hotels and motels. This is valuable information to have, even if you are just planning a routine road trip!

Did you know that the ASPCA provides free stickers for you to place on visible doors or windows? These stickers tell first responders that animals live in the home. Another organization offers a different sticker version. While you should never leave animals behind in an evacuation emergency, these stickers would be very helpful if you experienced an isolated event. My problem would be in keeping the numbers current as I seem to often add dogs to my home!

There are many effective methods of ensuring that your pets are identified. Microchipping dogs and cats is easier and much more common than microchipping horses. (I wrote about microchipping horses here and here.) Vet clinics, shelters and rescue groups usually have chip wands that can find and read most microchips. However, It is critical that you keep your contact information current. On the other hand, the average citizen who might find your lost pet won’t have a scanner. It is for that reason that all of my dogs wear collars embroidered with their name and my cell phone number. There are numerous companies that provide that service. I order my collars here.

A Disaster Preparedness Kit

There are many resources available on the web that provide instructions on how to make an emergency plan for family pets. Pet owners should have a disaster preparedness kit, and a helpful list of items to include can be found here. The most critical components include:

  • Vaccination and/or veterinary records for each pet
  • Adoption/purchase information to prove ownership
  • Recent and clear photographs of your pet with you
  • Microchip number and company information
  • Your name, contact information, places you might be staying, names of relatives (include out of state contact in case local cell towers are down or overwhelmed)
  • Medications in original containers if possible, with detailed instructions
  • 2 week supply of food and water if possible
  • One month supply of flea & tick and Heartworm prevention
  • Leashes, collars, carriers/crates, toys

For those who are unable to leave their homes, there are many things to consider in the aftermath of a disaster. Familiar landmarks may be gone, so cats should remain in carriers and dogs on leashes. Confused pets can easily become lost. Additionally, water may be unsafe to drink. Check for spilled toxic materials, exposed wiring, sharp objects, and other hazards normally not present. While physical changes may be far too evident, emotional changes may be much harder to identify. The stress of enduring an emergency, plus the changes experienced after an emergency, can derail even the most stable pet. Not only will your pet be severely stressed, but so will you. Even in the face of severe hardship, do your best to remain calm so that your pets and livestock can take their cues from you.

Identification on your pet is critical

There is one overriding message in all articles I read concerning disaster emergency preparedness. If you do not have current and complete identifying information on all of your pets and livestock, you dramatically reduce your chances of reunification.

In the final analysis, only you can decide your risk of facing a natural disaster. What, if anything, do you want to do to prepare? Folks who live in hurricane-prone areas should clearly have a plan. Those of us in tornado alley face a different challenge. On the one hand, we have much less time to prepare, but on the other hand, the scope of the disaster is usually much less widespread. The California wildfires created a situation somewhat in the middle… While it was possible to track the path of the fires to some extent, the wind changed the course of devastation quickly. A great deal of land was affected with a tremendous human and animal toll. It is normal human behavior to hope for the best and manage to convince ourselves that it won’t affect us. Unfortunately, sometimes no decision is a decision.

And what about you?

In other words, the same “stinkin’ thinkin'” that convinces us that a disaster won’t strike in our backyard lulls us into believing we won’t be injured on a “routine” horseback ride. Statistically speaking, you might be correct. Car accidents kill 90 people every day and injure 3 million yearly. The CDC reports 100,000 horse-related accidents occur every year.

Consider the amount of time you spend in your car versus on your horse. Likewise, consider the number of cars in the United States versus the number of horses. Lastly, consider the probability that your car will suddenly “go off the rails” because you flushed a turkey or rode over a ground bee’s nest. YOU are the primary variable when you are driving a car. Depending on your riding skill, either you, your horse, or both of you are the variables when riding. Your horse’s response to the environment is a variable. All things considered, I wonder what the relative risk of riding is compared to driving or being in a vehicle?

My life is pretty amazing right now and I intend to keep it that way as long as possible. For this reason, I wear seatbelts in the car, try to drive responsibly, and do everything I can to return from a horseback ride in one piece. Next week I will provide an update about Finn, my young gelding. We have had several rides lately, as well as some great lessons in the round pen. Nevertheless, he continues to throw minor tantrums when he’d prefer not to do as I ask. In the event that one of his “light on the front end” tantrums results in us parting ways, I will be glad I am wearing a vest and helmet. See you next week!

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