An animal lover’s guide to disaster preparedness
By Christina Orlovsky Page
Photos by Jennifer Siegwart, David McNew and Justin Sullivan
We are no strangers to disaster in San Diego. From wildfire and flood to earthquake and power outage, the risk of emergency is always present, which means it’s always wise to be prepared—especially if you have animals.
“The number-one thing people with animals need to remember is that you can always take your animals with you,” says Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of San Diego Humane Society (SDHS). “You just need to have a plan.”
SDHS and the county’s Department of Animal Services (DAS) work hand-in-hand during emergency situations—often in partnership with the American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties—to provide relief and rescue for animal owners in harm’s way. Read on for lifesaving tips from both animal welfare organizations to ensure you and your four-legged loved ones are prepared.
Anticipate the Need to Evacuate
“First and foremost, it is the responsibility of a pet or animal owner to evacuate and shelter their own animals,” says Daniel E. DeSousa, DAS deputy director. “You should have enough crates or cages and supplies for all of your animals—and a vehicle large enough to transport all of them. If you have horses or other livestock, you should have a trailer to evacuate them.”
DeSousa also recommends planning an evacuation route—and then a plan B.
“People must have two avenues of escape from their residence, as one may be inaccessible due to earthquake, fire or
flood,” he says. “As part of evacuation planning, desig-nate a place outside of the area where you can go with your animals—a friend, a family member or a pet-friendly hotel.”
Prepare an Evacuation Kit
“I have a Rubbermaid bin by my door that’s stocked with everything I need for my dog and two cats,” says Captain Melyssa Jones of SDHS Humane Law Enforcement.
Fill your “go kit” with everything your animals may need for at least three days: food—especially if they’re on special diets—water, medications, bedding and toys.
“If you have exotic animals, like snakes, that need a special heated habitat, make sure you have an emergency backup for it—especially if you lose power, which often happens in disasters,” she advises. “If you have horses, fill a file folder labeled ‘Corral 1,’ ‘Corral 2,’ and so on with all the paperwork for the horses in each corral. That way, if you have to leave without your horses, you can easily grab your files and provide us with all the information we need to reach them and care for them.”
Keep Records Updated
“Identification of animals is crucial, and that can be best accomplished by having the animals microchipped and registered prior to any emergency,” says DeSousa. “All dogs are required to be licensed and wearing their li-cense tag at all times, so that will provide a secondary form of identification.”
DeSousa also recommends that dogs be registered with Finding Rover, an app that uses facial recognition to reunite lost dogs with their owners. Your smartphone is also a good place to keep photos of your pets, as well as up-to-date copies of their medical and vaccination records and contact information for your veterinarian.
Remember: Practice Makes Perfect
Time is of the essence in an emergency, and rounding up your animals may not always be an easy task. Once your plan is in place, practice it.
“In 2007, when I had to evacuate my residence, it took a very long time to round up all of my animals and get them loaded into our cars,” DeSousa says. “If I had practiced prior to that, I would have known to catch one of my cats first, as she quickly hid once she saw all the crates being brought out.”
In fact, when it comes to cats, crating for trans-port is often the biggest challenge of evacuation.
“If the only time a cat uses his crate is to go to the vet, he will instinc-tively be anxious when he sees that crate,” says Jones. “Pre-pare for an emergency by making the crate a safe place for your animal—have the crate out and put treats in it to make it a place your cat wants to go when anxious or stressed.”
Make It a Community Effort
They say it takes a village, and in the case of emergency preparedness, the more close-ly connected you are with your community, the better.
“We encourage a buddy sys-tem—a neighbor system—especially in senior communities, but also in all neighbor-hoods. That way if you’re away, some-one can go in and get your animals out safely,” says Jones.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of having a game plan for you and your family—a whole family plan that in-cludes your pets and your neigh-bors,” she con-cludes. “My neighbors know where I work and we have established meeting locations and one-word text exchanges in pre-paration for emergencies. It’s essential to have that conversation—have that plan in place, so you’re ready for anything.”