In a disaster, animals are worth saving in their own right, but government agencies cared little about disaster preparedness for pets until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina showed the world that people will risk life and limb to save their pets in an emergency, and that saving pets saves people. In the U.S., state governments now must take pets into account in disaster prepardness plans, and there are steps we can all take to prepare ourselves and our pets for hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, blizzards, nuclear leaks, terrorist attacks, hazardous material spills, and other disasters.
The PETS Act
When 88,700 pets went missing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act of 2006, which requires state and local authorities to include companion animals and service animals in their disaster preparedness plans in order to qualify for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
To learn about your state's plan, get in touch with your disaster preparedness agency. Google "disaster preparedness" and the name of your state.
Take Your Pets With You
If at all possible, do not leave your pets behind if you have to evacuate your home. As the American Veterinary Medicine Association states in their brochure, "Saving the Whole Family" (free PDF download):
Countless times people have been told to leave their homes for a “short time,” only to find that they cannot return for days or weeks. Even disasters like gas leaks and minor flooding can keep you from tending to your animals for extended periods of time. To prevent situations such as these TAKE YOUR ANIMALS WITH YOU.
In Case You Are Not at Home
To be prepared in case a disaster hits while you are not at home:
- Have stickers on your doors and windows to alert rescue workers that there are animals in your home. The ASPCA offers free emergency pet stickers.
- Make arrangements with a neighbor to take care of your animals in your absence. This is a good idea for both disasters and personal emergencies. Give this person a key to your home as well as full instructions regarding food, litter, medicine, veterinarians, etc. Make sure they know where everything is stored, including leashes and carriers.
- Make sure your pets are microchipped and have collars and tags. For animals who cannot be microchipped, label the cages with ID and contact information.
If You Must Leave Your Animals
Leaving your animals behind is a last resort, since you can't be sure what will happen while you are gone or when you will be able to return. If you must leave your animals behind:
- Do not leave cats, dogs or small animals outside. Confine them to a safe area inside with plenty of food and water. You will, however, have to balance the risks of your pets becoming sick from overeating with the risk of running out of food before they can be rescued. In an emergency, you can leave the toilet seat up so they will have access to water.
- Place a note on your front door notifying rescue workers that there are pets inside. Include the number of animals and their descriptions, as well as your contact information and your veterinarian's information.