By Phil Snyder, Executive Director of Suncoast Humane Society
Hurricane Andrew, one of the most destructive hurricanes ever, was a real wake-up call for the need to include animals in disaster planning. Not only for family pets but for farm animals, zoos, wildlife centers and animal sanctuaries. For the safety of the animals, yes, but also because loose and frightened animals can cause many problems, like blocking roadways during the emergency. Since Andrew hit in 1992, cities, counties, states and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have enacted animal disaster plans.
The success of these plans is dependent on us all having our own personal disaster readiness plans. Pets are also family members, so their welfare must be included in the plan.
Your pet’s preparedness checklist should contain any medications, medical records, leashes, harnesses and carriers for transporting your pet. Also, remember to pack a current photo of you and your pets, along with their descriptions, in case you become separated. Include several days’ supply of food and water, and don’t forget a manual can opener. Stock up on nonperishable items well ahead of time. Having your pets own bed and toys, along with grooming tools can relive stress.
If you plan to leave the area, remember to find a safe place that will accept you and your pets ahead of time and note your route of travel. Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your homework. If you will be staying with friends or relatives, contact them far in advance to ensure they are aware you will be bringing pets and how many. If you plan to check into a hotel, research their pet acceptance policies. Ask if they vary during a disaster. Call as early as possible for a reservation, as other prepared pet owners may be doing the same.
If you plan not to leave the area, contact your local Red Cross chapter, or emergency management and inquire as to any pet-friendly shelters in your immediate area. These are shelters for animals that are located close to people shelters. It is impossible to determine in advance of a disaster where other temporary pet shelters may be opened. The path of a hurricane or tornado has canceled many well planned sites for a temporary shelter.
Suncoast Humane Society played a major role in animal rescue and relief during Hurricane Charley in 2004. With luck we will be ready to play that same important role when needed again. Like all shelters in times of disaster, our animal care center will be immediately filled to capacity with displaced animals. Existing animal shelters will not have room to temporarily board your pet. Again, advanced planning for you and your pet is a must.
It is important to remember that a disaster is a bad happening that overpowers or overwhelms you. It can impact one family, like a house fire, one neighborhood like a chemical spill, one area like a spreading brush fire or whole communities like a hurricane or tornado. It really pays off to keep your and your pet’s disaster kits fresh and ready all year around. If you would like additional information, including a copy of “You and Your Pet, Preparing for Disaster,” please contact Suncoast Humane Society at 941-484 7884 or visit us online at www.humane.org.