When it comes to San Diego County, it is not a question of “if” a disaster will strike, but rather “when”. While our two most likely disasters would be yet another firestorm or a major earthquake, we also could be faced with flooding, a nuclear accident, tsunami, terrorist activity or a pandemic disease. And who can forget the 2011 blackout when all of San Diego County went dark and our normal lives came screeching to a halt? The big question is, when a disaster does strike, will you be prepared?
The Department of Animal Services encourages everyone to be prepared for the next disaster. That means not only having a disaster plan for your family, but your pets as well. As an animal owner, you are responsible for the evacuation and sheltering of your animals. After all, aren’t Fido, Fluffy, Tweetie, and Speedy part of your family as well?
If in doubt, get out
Most importantly, if you are told to evacuate, do so immediately and take your animals with you. You should always have two predetermined evacuation routes and meeting areas in case of a disaster. Why two? Because you can never know if an evacuation route may be closed due to the disaster. We also strongly encourage you to practice your evacuation plan as it will probably take longer than you think to gather all your belongings and pets and evacuate. In addition, check with your neighbors to see if they can help to evacuate your pets if you are not at home when a disaster strikes.
In the time of a voluntary evacuation, it falls upon you as the animal owner to find a place to take your family and pets. We recommend that you check with local hotels, veterinary clinics and boarding facilities in advance to see if they can accommodate your pets. You should also check with friends and family that live out of the area to see if they could provide a safe place for you and your pets to stay.
In a mandatory evacuation, the Fire Department and law enforcement cannot make you leave. But, rest assured, it is in your best interest to do so. Staying behind puts not only your life at risk but also those of the first responders that are responding to the disaster. You must be prepared to take everything with you in one trip because you will not be allowed back into the disaster area once the roadblocks have gone up.
Making a list and checking it twice
The Department of Animal Services recommends that you prepare, practice, and update a disaster plan with your family, and assemble emergency supplies ahead of time. As a part of an overall plan to protect your family members, the following recommendations can help you prepare for a disaster and keep you and your animals safe:
- Make sure that all of your animals have some form of identification on them at all times. While you are required to have a dog license tag on your dogs, we also strongly encourage you to microchip your dogs, cats and other pets and have those microchip numbers registered with your current information not only with the Department of Animal Services but also the microchip company as well.
- At least seven days worth of food and water for each pet and food and water bowls. If you have canned food, make sure that you include a manually operated can opener & plastic can lid for the canned food.
- A copy of current veterinary records, including rabies & wellness vaccination certificates, and at least a week’s worth of any needed medicines & supplies – in a waterproof container. Proof of current vaccinations may be required by boarding facilities.
- A pet first aid guide and supplies, including wound cleaning, dressing, and bandaging material.
- Several recent photographs of you and your pet kept in a waterproof container just in case your animal gets lost.
- A crate or carrier for each pet large enough for your pet to stand and turn around in.
- A leash and collar or harness for your animals, and a muzzle for any dog known to be aggressive or defensive around people or other animals.
- Toys, treats and bedding for each pet.
- Supplies to collect and dispose of pet wastes, e.g., plastic bags, scooper, cat litter, etc.
Special Considerations for Livestock
If you have horses or other livestock, you must have a horse or livestock trailer, and make sure that the animals know how to load. Horse owners should ensure that a halter and lead line for each horse is kept on or near its enclosure gate. Attaching the owner’s identification to the halter or lead will help to ensure the animals are returned to their owner.
If you are unable to evacuate your horses or livestock, ensure that you have defensible space around their corrals and barns. Do not simply open the gates and let them run loose as that puts the first responders that are on the roads at risk of being in an accident.
By following these helpful tips, it is the hope of the County of San Diego Department of Animal that you and your family members, both two-legged and four-legged, stay safe in the next disaster that impacts our community.