Tiffany Mahaffey, ASPCA Disaster Preparedness ManagerAugust 8, 2008
What would you do if you had to evacuate your home in the event of an emergency? And more specifically, what would you do with the furred, finned and feathered members of the family? ASPCA Disaster Preparedness Manager Tiffany Mahaffey was on hand in early August to answer all your questions about emergency planning for animalsfrom how to keep kitties safe during earthquakes to the best way to transport tropical fish. Read on to learn more.
I know that several areas have passed laws allowing people to take their pets with them to emergency shelters. But do these laws apply only to cats and dogs?
After Hurricane Katrina, the federal government passed the Pet Evacuation Transportation Safety (PETS) Act, which basically states that local governments must include “companion animals” in their disaster planning efforts. Although this typically applies to dogs and cats, many jurisdictions are making the effort to including a wide variety of animalsincluding exotics, horses and non-traditional petsin their disaster plans. However, this varies from locality to locality. Scott, the best thing to do is to contact your local city or county Office/Department of Emergency Management to find out what your area’s plan includes and prepare yourself accordingly.
My biggest fear is that we will have to evacuate our home and I won’t be able to find my cat, Simba, or get him into a carrier fast enough. Do you have any advice for me?
One of the best ways to help minimize this risk is to get Simba used to going into his carrier for play and happy times, rather than only experiencing it when going to the vet or the groomer. Leave your cat carrier out and put lots of treats, catnip and toys in it for Simba to play with. Putting him in his carrier with treats and taking him on a short drive around the block is another good way to get him used to it without any negativesthat is, no vet visits!
I know a lot of people who keep various species of reptiles, from boa constrictors and corn snakes to iguanas (four feet, including tail!) and leopard geckos. What can I tell them about preparing their pets for an emergency?
Folks who love reptiles, as I do, need to be sure to have duplicates of EVERYTHING they need for their pets! Reptiles have specific heat, moisture and feeding requirements, so it’s vital to be prepared. Keep extras of the heat lamps/rocks, misters and bedding that you use on a daily basis packed in a tote and ready to go in the event of an emergency. That way, you can literally grab your pet and go without having to waste valuable time breaking down his existing habitat.
How can I make sure my cat is safe during an earthquake? Thanks!
Typically, a cat's natural inclination is to hide under things when she's scared. In the event of an earthquake (and also flooding), this can prove to be fatal. It’s a good idea to avoid storing lots of stuff under beds and dresserswhen items shift during an earthquake or flood, your hiding cat could become trapped. If you must store things this way, please arrange them in a way that creates multiple exit points. This will increase your cat’s ability to escape from that hiding spot should one route become blocked.
My sister has a huge tropical fish tank. Is it possible to evacuate fish? Several of them were very expensive, and I know she's attached to them.
Yes! We've rescued several tanks full of fish from floods before. When evacuation planning for fish, something to consider is having a smaller tank for your fishone that you can lift if need be, or on wheelsalready set up and ready to go. This is particularly important if their main tank is large and heavy.
Evacuating with fish can certainly be done, but it will require more time, so another very important consideration is to begin your process as soon as an evacuation order is given.
My dog really doesn’t like strangers. How do I get him prepared for the fact that a stranger might be handling him during an emergency?
Brenda, just like people, dogs and other animals may react differently in high-stress moments than they normally would. I’ve seen dogs whose owners said they will bite be only too happy to jump into rescue vehicles during flooding or wildfires, while dogs who are used to being handled by strangers and are generally happy-go-lucky may growl or lunge. This is normal, and well-trained rescuers understand this. In the meantime, socializing your pet with a variety of new people and places in a fun, positive manner is one way to get him prepared to deal with the new people and environments he may be exposed in the event of a disaster.
I’m brand new to this, but very interested in becoming trained in animal rescue and disaster response. What kind of programs should I be looking for, and where and how do I begin?
Great, Twana! The first place to start is online! Due to federal regulations, all responders must, at a minimum, pass Incident Command Courses #100, 200, 700 and 800. These are free online courses that you can take by logging on to the FEMA website at www.fema.gov. Another excellent starting point is to find out if your state or county has a State/County Animal Response Team (SART/CART). Visit www.sartusa.org or contact your local Office of Emergency Management to find out more!
After you pass the online courses, a variety of groups provide more advanced, real-world training in animal rescue. You can visit our ASPCApro Disaster Readiness website for links to each of these organizations.
Don’t forget, you can gain valuable, hands-on animal handling experience by volunteering at your local animal shelter or rescue group. Use our online shelter database to search for animal shelters in your area. Not only will you get animal handling experience, you will also brighten the day of an animal in need!
Hi Tiffany. If I get separated from my pet during an evacuation, how do I prove he’s mine when I find him again and want to get him back?
One of the things I like to tell people is to take photos not only of the identifying markings on their pets, but also take photos of themselves WITH their pets. These photos can be kept in emergency Grab-and-Go bags, along with pets’ veterinary/medical history, shot records, medications, etc. Having dated photos of you with your pet is an excellent way to prove ownership in the event of separation during a disaster.
One last thing: Make sure your photos are relatively recent. Just like us, animals age and look different as adults than when they were just little babies!
For some reason, my dog will not go up or down the stairs in my househe’ll only navigate stairs that are outdoors. If we have a tornado and we have to go to the basement, but he won't come, what should I do? I know I could never leave him upstairs in a tornado while I'm in the basement.
Doglover, begin doing some fun and positive basic training with your dog to make him comfortable with stairs. Try starting him out on a few steps, rather than a whole flight. Each time he goes up or down one of the steps, give him a treatand then gradually increase the number of steps he must master before he gets a treat. In the meantime, if a tornado siren goes off and you must head to the basement immediately, you may have to carry him downstairs or ask someone else in your home to carry him if he's too heavy.
I’ve heard that the survival rate for cats in areas hit by floods is lower than that of dogswhy is that? Can’t cats swim?
Cats can swim! However, one reason that the survival rate for cats may not be as great as for dogs is that when frightened, a cat’s natural inclination is to hide under something. (See the earlier question about earthquakes.)
When flood waters rush in, knocking things over, cats can become trapped under the furniture that was making them feel safe a moment ago. That's why it's important to make sure that anything your cats tend to hide under, like your bed, is clutter-free and has multiple escape routes. Of course, the first and most important thing is to evacuate with your cat!