Don’t forget your pets when forming a disaster plan

Our pets enrich our lives in more ways than we can count. In turn, they depend on us for their safety and well-being.

The best way to protect your family from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan must include your pets. Being prepared can save their lives.

Different disasters require different responses. But whether the disaster is a wildfire or a power outage, you may have to evacuate your home.

If the call to evacuate is made, the most important thing to protect your pets is to evacuate them, too. Leaving pets behind, even if you try to create a safe place for them, is likely to result in their being injured, lost or worse. So prepare now.

Red Cross disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of health and safety regulations, and other considerations. Service animals who assist people with disabilities are the only animals allowed in Red Cross shelters. Even though we work with the local Humane Society to assist pet owners during a disaster, it might be difficult to find shelter for your animals during a disaster, so plan ahead. Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your research.

Whether you are away from home for a day or a week, youíll need essential supplies. Keep items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily (duffel bags, covered trash containers, etc.) Your pet disaster supplies kit should include:

Medications and medical records and a pet first-aid kit.

Sturdy leashes or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals canít escape.

Current photos of your pets in case they get lost.

Food, potable water, bowls, cat litter/pan and a can opener.

Information about feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.

Pet beds and toys.

Call beforehand to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets.

Bring all pets into the house, so you wonít have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.

Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars and securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Attach the phone number and address of your temporary shelter, if you know it, or of someone outside the disaster area. You can buy temporary tags or put adhesive tape on the back of your petís ID tag, adding information with an indelible pen.

Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. But bear in mind that animals react differently under stress. Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed or in a carrier. Donít leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off. The most trustworthy pets may panic, hide, try to escape, or even bite or scratch.

And when you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines. Consult your veterinarian if any behavior problems persist.

Cindi Shank is executive director of the Southwest Colorado chapter of the American Red Cross.

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