How To Prep Your Pets For An Emergency Evacuation

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated February 23, 2024

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As dramatic pictures of the path being taken by Hurricane Florence as it bore down on the southern United States emerged, they put into sharp focus the need for all citizens – and pet-owners in particular – to have a robust plan of pet evacuation in place to ensure their safety.

Of course, there’s nothing new in the need for homes to be evacuated – but equally, it brings home the importance of some forward planning.

With high winds and heavy rain the main dangers posed, the time to be thinking about how you’d deal with such threats is now.

Writing in USA Today, Dalvin Brown says that, with strong winds, heavy rain and possible flooding forecast for areas along the coasts of North and South Carolina and Virginia forecast, it’s time to think about getting out early.

Dr. Robin Ganzert, CEO of American Humane, and the owner of an eight-year-old dog herself, also says that ALL pet owners need to consider building and keeping handy a disaster preparation kit and a plan for pet evacuation.

This should include basics such as a serviceable carrier which is the right size for any animal being transported, as well as food bowls, wipes and blankets, chew toys, all current medication, and contact details for your pets’ regular veterinarian.

pets evac
Staff Sgt. Kevin Sanada (left) and Tech. Sgt. Leanna Lightfoot examine a dog affected by Hurricane Katrina. Evacuees and their pets are being brought here for an examination before being taken to their final destination. The Airmen are medics with the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Medical Group. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jack Braden)

Not so obvious, but potentially equally helpful, are recent photos of you with your pet(s). These are useful for proving ownership should you be separated during a pet evacuation.

But apart from this, animal welfare experts recommend not overloading yourself with pet supplies – instead, many essentials in a typical human first-aid kit can be used on your pet if they need emergency treatment.

In fact, your dogs’ or cats’ current vaccination records and meds details could prove worth their weight in gold, by ensuring that emergency co-ordinators can reunite you – or at the very least, that your pets will be accepted into a temporary animal shelter, until the situation returns to normal.

But ideally, you don’t want to have to burden a shelter with your pets, because in the main they’re already overcrowded.

As part of its efforts to ease the strain on shelters, American Humane has stepped up efforts to re-home cats to areas which aren’t in the storm’s path, so that homes can welcome temporary residents brought out of areas which are most at risk of floods or other damage.

Fear of leaving their pets behind often drives people to put off evacuating until the very last minute, Kitty Block, CEO of the Humane Society for the U.S., told USA Today.

But she added that this is no reason for turning up unannounced at an animal shelter in the hope that it can take your pets – if possible, you should always call first to check that they have space available.

pets evacuating
Pets in cages awaiting evacuation

What If Evacuation Isn’t Possible?

Dr. Ganzert said that, under no circumstances should pets be left in vehicles, but rather you should find a well concealed room in your house – ideally one without windows – and gather the whole family and pets there, and wait for the storm to pass.

To prevent them from fleeing in panic in the midst of the storm, you should lock all exits from your home that they could use. And get to know where your pets would hide when they’re frightened, because this is one of the first places they’ll head when it starts getting rough.

Ganzert also cautioned against tranquilizing pets to keep them calm, as “they’ll need to have all their wits about them” should they need to be moved at short notice.

Then, after the storm has passed, cats and dogs shouldn’t be allowed back into the home until a thorough assessment of any damage has been completed.

She concluded that, in general, “people don’t leave soon enough, and then it’s too late. [Do it] when your governor or mayor says evacuate.”

What’s The Official Advice?

Again, much of this focuses on early preparation. But official government advice includes:

  • Initiating or joining a ‘buddy’ system in your neighborhood, so that you can ask a neighbour to check on your pets if you have to leave them behind.
  • Getting to know the details of pet boarding facilities or animal hospitals close to the shelter to which you’re evacuated.
  • Scoping out pet-friendly hotels and lodging houses along your evacuation route.
  • Having a friend or relative outside your area to whom you can flee temporarily
  • Getting your cat or dog microchipped, and keeping the details on it up-to-date
  • Find out the latest advice available from your local emergency management office

What If Leaving Your Pet At Home Is The Only Option?

FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has found that as many as nearly six in 10 Americans don’t have a rehearsed disaster escape routine, a pet evacuation plan.

And as few as four in 10 have a plan and have shared it with family and friends, while the American Kennel Club also says that up to half a million domestic pets are affected by house fires every year – yet in the chaos which inevitably follows an emergency, such things as the location of pet carriers can often be forgotten.

So Herb Carver, aka ‘The Catastrophe Geek’, says it’s important to know exactly what to do should you need to evacuate.

All the advice if you find yourself trapped outside your home, with your pets still inside, is to leave their rescue to the properly-trained emergency workers. In the meantime, you should practice a command telling your pet to go to their crate or a safe room if you can’t get to them.

Teach Pets Your Escape Route

Dick Green, senior director of disaster response with the ASPCA, says it’s worth involving your animals in regular household escape drills, including rounding them up into their crates or kennels.

And out of courtesy, you should always make sure that your pets will be welcome with any relatives or friends who offer sanctuary should you need to leave your home.

What Should You Pack In A Pet Evacuation Kit?

  • Individual carrier for each pet – and keep them where you can find them quickly in an emergency
  • Paperwork, comprising a photo of each pet and a list detailing their age, color, breed, sex and distinguishing markings, and a copy of their veterinary treatment and vaccination records
  • Proof of ownership, such as city license and insurance certificate
  • Emergency contact numbers, including veterinarian, emergency clinics, animal shelters, and local poison control center. Consider printing a free card to list your contact details for notification in an emergency
  • At least three days’ supply of water and pet food – and possibly up to two weeks’ worth if you won’t be returning home soon. Put the dry food in a zipper bag attached to the outside of your pet’s carrier, and, as for wet food, pack small tins as you might not have anywhere to store open cans safely. And keeping a stock of your dog’s or cat’s favorite treats means you can use them to reassure him
  • Food and water bowls for the pet evacuation
  • Dog harness – in an emergency, he should always be kept on his leash, and a muzzle should be available so he can be handled safely by strangers
  • Two-week supply of any medications. Or pack a blank prescription form with the earlier-mentioned paperwork
  • A poop scoop and plastic waste disposal bags useful during a pet evacuation
  • Kitchen towels and baby wipes
  • Pet first aid kit
  • Your pet’s favorite blanket or toy, possibly along with an unwashed, worn T-shirt belonging to its owner
  • Long-haired dogs will need their brush or comb
  • Duct tape, or similar strong adhesive, to use to patch up the carrier if necessary.
supplies for evacuation
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, keeping a cupboard stocked with a few essentials for your ‘flight kit’ will stand you in good stead.

Be Wary Of Unfounded Rumors

One of the biggest dangers that emerged as Hurricane Florence struck was not natural, but man-made – that of the spread of groundless speculation.

To counter this, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created a webpage where it set out to dispel false rumors, such as that hotels and shelters were compelled by law to take in pets as part of any evacuation. In fact, service animals are the only ones they are obliged to take in, as laid down in the Americans with Disability Act.

The best place to locate your nearest pet-friendly hotels or shelters is, which has now added a hurricane emergency page to its site including a variety of helpful information and links.

Don’t Risk Yourself – Don’t Risk Your Pets

Plenty of T.V. pictures are being broadcast showing people in areas hit by Hurricane Florence, many cradling their beloved pets.

The worst aspect of all is probably that they won’t understand what’s happening. So you owe it to yourself to stay calm, and execute your pet evacuation preparations as smoothly as possible.

Keep yourself and your pets safe – but don’t put yourself or anyone else in danger on their account.

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