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Have an emergency plan for you – and your pets

The gusty winds of spring are familiar to many who call this area home. In addition to being the harbinger of warmer temperatures and longer sunshine hours, they also herald something else equally familiar – the beginning of fire season.

Disaster and emergencies, not just fire, can strike at any time, and it is imperative that pet owners not only have a preparedness plan for themselves but also their companions. As residents saw this past week with the Ute Pass Fire, evacuation orders come quickly when fire strikes in developed areas. Luckily, that blaze was relatively small and our first responders were able to get it swiftly under control. Other times, we are not so lucky, as evidenced with the disaster that was the 416 Fire in 2018.

Everyone should have a plan on where to evacuate in case of emergency. This is not “doom and gloom,” it is preparedness. This could be a friend or family member’s home that is not at risk of evacuation and that can safely house extra animals. Boarding facilities, kennels and pet day care centers are also good options. Many hotels do not accept pets other than service animals. Durango is fairly pet-friendly, but it is a good idea to have a list of hotels that do accept pets (and whatever breed/size/number restrictions each business has in place). A good website to double check is BringFido.com, or even general hotel search engines that allow filtered results. Some veterinary hospitals and animal shelters may also be able to temporarily house a certain number of pets, so familiarize yourself with options before you need them.

Identification is crucial to reuniting and ensuring pets are returned to their legal owners. Keep up-to-date, clear, full-body photos of your pets on your phone, cloud or email so that they cannot be lost, damaged or destroyed. Even better, consider microchipping your pets as tags can be lost and collars can sometimes slip off. Microchipping is a quick and tamper-proof identification system that can be done at your local veterinary office, clinic or shelter. Each microchip – a small device planted beneath the skin that is about the size of a grain of rice – is attached to a serial number. The owner’s contact information and the pet’s basic profile are assigned to that number within the microchip company’s database (some people erroneously assume that the microchip acts as a GPS locater; the technology is not quite there yet). According to a 2009 Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association article, dogs without a microchip are successfully reunited with their owners only 22% of the time. For cats, the statistics are even less optimistic: Less than 2% of cats without a microchip are returned to their owners. These numbers may have changed in more recent years with the advancement of social media and local groups dedicated to finding lost and found pets, however, why risk losing your companion? Additionally, make sure your contact information is registered and updated on the microchip. This can be checked by logging in to the company website that your pet’s microchip is associated with.

Finally, make sure you have medical records and supplies for your pets. A “bug out bag” with vaccination history, rabies certification, medical summary and medications (if applicable) will set your pet up for success depending on where they need to be evacuated and sheltered in the event of a disaster. Keep this information in a folder or bag that is easily accessible if you must leave your home quickly, or scan the information to your phone, cloud or email.

In an emergency, your pets will depend on you for their safety and well-being. These are just a few of the simple, but important, steps to ensure owners encounter less difficulty, stress and worry in what will already be a challenging situation.

Teigan Babcock is a supervisor at the La Plata County Humane Society.