Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Disaster Preparedness: Are you and your pet prepared?

By Kelly Grant

The disaster in Japan gave us quite a wake-up call!  Did you, like me, think about how it could so easily have been us? I went home wondering "How prepared are we to help pets in the event of a disaster?"

That was the question seven Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) staff and I were contemplating a few weeks ago with two dozen Santa Clara County animal shelter agency employees at the "Disaster Sheltering for Companion Animals" course.  Led by a seasoned American Humane Association volunteer, we walked through the vital issues that need to be considered when setting up a temporary shelter for pets in the event of a disaster.  Our team mapped out what a "disaster scenario shelter" might look like at HSSV and how it might function.

The reality is there are an estimated 725,000 pets in Silicon Valley and the demand for help with pets will likely outgrow the county resources at the time of a major disaster. Many of us will be on our own for days or weeks, which just goes to show the importance of each of us setting up our own disaster kit, buddy system, and back up plan for ourselves and our pets.

Here are a few things you can do now, before any type of disaster:

1. Identification - Make sure all animals have collars with identification tags. Cats should have breakaway collars. Identification tags should include a cell number, in case you are not reachable at home. Ideally, your pets should also have a microchip in case their collars come off. Remember to keep your contact information for the microchip current.

2. Pet First Aid Consider taking a pet first aid class. In the event of a disaster, emergency services and personnel may be overwhelmed—you may be your pet’s best chance of rescue or medical care. Make sure you know ahead of time where you would take your pets if you need to evacuate. HSSV is offering a Pet First Aid & CPR class Saturday, April 2 at our Animal Community Center.

3. Practice If your dog doesn’t come when called, or if your cat resists going into her carrier, they may need some training too. Familiarize your pets with an evacuation scenario by trying some practice drills—can you get everybody out of the house in less than five minutes?

4. Household Safety – You can protect your pets by making sure your house isn't prone to hazardous conditions during a disaster. Think about your pets’ favorite hangouts or where they hide when they are frightened. Are heavy items like bookcases secured in place? Are hazardous chemicals secured somewhere where they won’t fall or spill? Are aquariums secured?

5. Pet Disaster Kit – You should have a disaster kit with supplies for each animal and it should be stored with your own disaster supplies. The kit should be easy to carry or load in the car, and it should be waterproof. A plastic storage tub or a duffle bag works well. 

6. Buddy System There's no guarantee that you will be at home, or able to get home, when disaster strikes. A buddy system provides a backup plan. Find a trusted friend or neighbor, ideally someone who is typically at home during the hours that you are not. Give them a key to your house, familiarize them with your pets and any medical issues, and make sure they know where your disaster kit is. If your neighborhood is evacuated while you aren't at home, your buddy can make sure your animals get out too.

7. Know Where to Go If you must evacuate your home, think about where to take your animals. Most shelters for families will not take pets. The best option for your animals is for them to stay with a friend or family member outside the disaster area. Decide in advance who will take your animals. Another option is a pet-friendly hotel—make a list of hotels in your area that accept pets.
Be Pet Prepared.  Visit HSSV's Disaster Preparedness for Your Pet page for more detailed information.

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