Preparing for disaster when you have a pet
Pet owners can take steps to save animals ahead of natural disasters
Owners and their pets attend a mass to honor the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi in Nice, southeastern France, October 9, 2011. Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment -- but you don't need to pray to him to keep your pets safe in an emergency. (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)
A recent survey commissioned by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found that 35 percent of cat and dog owners don't have a disaster preparedness plan in place.
Tim Rickey, senior director of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response, says that confronting an impending disaster can be stressful and confusing for people and their pets.
"Having a plan in place ahead of time can save you precious time and energy, so you can focus on quickly getting you and your pets to safety," he says.
Should conditions warrant an evacuation, experts say the most important thing to remember: Don't leave your animals behind. Their chances of survival are greatly diminished if they're left on their own. (Another recent survey, from the American Pet Products Association, found that 76 percent of dog owners and 72 percent of cat owners would take their pets with them during a disaster.)
That means planning ahead. Have a friend or relative outside the evacuation area who can care for your cat or dog, or have a pet shelter, vet or boarding facility that can take the animal. Lay the groundwork in advance; don't wait until the shingles are blowing off the roof to start making phone calls.
Here are a few other basic steps a pet owner can take:
Warning signs: Post "Pets Inside" stickers on your front and back doors. If a disaster strikes and you are not home, this sticker will let rescuers know there are animals in the house. They're available at various retail outlets, Amazon.com or petalertdecal.com.
A haven: Not all emergency evacuation shelters allow pets. The website petfriendlytravel.com suggests calling your county emergency management office (there's a list at petfriendlytravel.com/pet_shelters), or check with a local animal shelter.
Identification: Make sure your cat or dog has a properly fitted collar with identification tag attached. Having your animal microchipped is a good idea as well. And make sure the information is up to date.
There are also devices such as Tagg — The Pet Tracker, a tracking system that uses GPS and lets a pet owner locate a lost pet via a tracking device in the animal's collar (go to tagg.com).
Emergency kit: Just as you have one for yourself and other family members, have one for your animal.
Pet records, medication, food and water should be included. Go to petfinder.com/pet-care (click on the link "Disaster Preparedness") for a thorough list of items to pack.
Also, because power may go out, consider reflective gear. Petflect.com offers a line of reflective leashes, collars and vests for dogs.