Disaster Planning for Pets & Families
for You, Your Pets & Family
written and compiled by Dorinne Whynott
Prepare in Advance for Disasters
In the past decade, it has been scary with all the hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, fires and earthquakes. These are big enough reasons to warrant an evacuation, but there are smaller reasons, too. You could have a house fire or if you live near a train track or a highway, there could be an accident with one of the vehicles carrying hazardous material, there could be work done on a home near you and someone accidentally hits a gas line. We all live within a few hundred miles from a nuclear plant or there is the possibility of a biological and/or terrorist attack. In Nashua, a few years ago, some were evacuated from their homes when there was a chemical problem in a plant in the southern part of the city. Spring of 2006 brought drought and dry conditions, starting wildfires to many NH towns and then there was the Mother’s Day floods.
If you ever need to be evacuated, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS BEHIND. If it is unsafe for you, it is unsafe for them. Even if you are told you will be back in a few hours, take your pets. Once you are evacuated, you will NOT be allowed back into the affected areas and there is always the possibility of the disaster becoming worse. Survival of you, your family and pets goes up dramatically if you are prepared, so here are some tips and information collected from The American Humane Association, Humane Society of the United States, Emergency Animal Rescue Service, The ASPCA, and The American Red Cross. If you would like further information please contact these organizations, (contact information located at the end of this document).
Disasters can happen at anytime and anywhere. In a disaster, roads may be out, cell towers may be down, phone lines and electricity may be stopped so do not depend on these. Cells phones are always a good idea, however, it is also advisable to have a corded phone, so in the case of no electricity and no cell phone, you will still have a phone line in case of emergency. When a disaster strikes, you may not have much time to respond so please be proactive. Prepare BEFORE a disaster. Hopefully, you will never have to experience a disaster, but the probability is that you will at some point in your life, being prepared will help in a very hard stressful situation. As we saw in New Orleans, it is best to not rely on state or federal government for all your needs.
Think about what you would do if you had to live in your home during a disaster. What would you do for food? Water? What if you had no electricity? No heat? What if there were no gas available? No propane? No Oil? What would you do if the outside air was contaminated? How would you seal your home? What if you had to stay in your home for 4 – 6 weeks? Okay, this sounds drastic, but what if? When the planes hit the towers, what did you think? I thought we were at war. What if the scenario of the TV series “Jericho” were a reality? One day you are living your life as you have always done, and then within minutes life as you know it changes. All I am suggesting, is to think about these things, prepare for as much or as little as you feel comfortable to protect you, your family and your pets. I am giving you suggestions that can apply if you are contained in your home and/or if you are evacuated from your home. Of course, if you can stay in your home, you can prepare with more food, water, etc, then if you must leave and pack things in your vehicle. You will need to decide before hand, what would you bring and not bring if you must leave. So, here are some ideas.
Create a Family Disaster Plan
- Contact your local emergency management or civil defense office and your local American Red Cross Chapter. Find out which disasters are most likely to happen in your community. Ask how you would be warned. Find out how to prepare for each. Ask the American Red Cross for a brochure on “Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit”. Click on Making a Disaster Kit for more information.
- Meet with your family. Discuss the types of disasters that could occur. Explain how to prepare and respond. Discuss what to do if you need to evacuate. Practice what you have discussed.
- Plan how your family will stay in contact if separated. Pick two meeting places: 1. a location a safe distance from your home in case of fire 2. a place outside your neighborhood in case you can not return home. Also, choose an out-of-state friend as a “check-in contact” for everyone to call if a disaster you.
- Complete the following: Post emergency numbers by every phone and put these numbers in wallets and pocketbooks to go with you. Show responsible family members how and when to shut off water, gas and electricity main switches. If you ever go away post this information in a visible place. Make a map of your house as to where these are.
- Keep gas tanks in vehicles full at all times, Stock pantries of canned goods (One month’s supply is best), keep cash on hand, keep plastic gloves and masks (boxes marked N95 or N100, can be purchased at drug stores and also used around home when using chemicals, painting, etc.) for disease control and if air is contaminated. If a disaster hits, gas, food, and other necessary items will be in short supply and banks will be closed.
- Post Pet Rescue Stickers on each door. They must be easily visible to rescue workers and must contain the types and number of pets inside, the name of your veterinarian and phone number, your phone numbers (cell, work, emergency) and emergency person’s phone numbers. Professional Pet Sitting Etc. does have Pet Rescue window clings for sale.
- Install fire/smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms, test monthly and change the batteries two times each year (an easy way to remember is to change batteries when the clocks are changed in spring and fall). It is also recommended to replace these devices every FIVE years. Another recommendation is to buy devices that communicate with each other, so if the one in the basement goes off, the others sound also and say the room of the unit that is sending the alarm.
- Contact your local fire department to learn about fire hazards. Have your home inspected for fire hazards and repair, also have your fire extinguishers checked. If you can afford to equip your home with a fire sprinkler system, these systems can extinguish a fire within minutes and keep damage to a minimum.
- Learn first aid and CPR (for people and pets), you can contact your local American Red Cross for information and training. Click here for Pet First Aid Video.
- Meet with your neighbors. Plan how the neighborhood could work together after a disaster. Know your neighbors’ skills (medical, technical). Consider how you could help your neighbors who have special needs, such as elderly, disabled persons and neighborhood pets. Make plans for child care AND pet care in case you can not get home.
- Always bring pets indoors at the first sign or warning of a storm or disaster. Pets can become stressed, disoriented and wander away from home during a crisis.
Remember to Practice and Maintain Your Plans
The federal government has passed the PETS ACT, basically stating that each state must include pets in there disaster response plans. The following is a compilation of pet disaster preparedness from the American Humane Association, Humane Society of the United States, Emergency Animal Rescue Service, and the American SPCA:
Where could you go?
- Know where you can go with your family and your pets BEFORE anything happens. Evacuation shelters will not allow animals, so it is up to you to know where to go.
- Call hotels in and out of state. Go to the book store, there are books that list pet friendly hotels. Ask hotels with a “no pet policy” if that would be waived in the event of an emergency (A great source is the web site Pets Welcome).
- Keep a list of pet friendly places and their phone numbers.
- As soon as you hear that there may be an evacuation, call and make reservations and go as soon as possible. These hotels will book fast. Most operate on a first come, first served basis. Be one of the first to arrive and give your pets plenty of time to settle.
- If your pet is not used to traveling, take them for short rides in the car now, it will help them in a time of crisis and when they are going to regular check up.
- If they are not used to being crated/caged, again now is the time to get them used to it by feeding them in their crate/cage and leave the doors open, gradually get them used to staying in their crates for periods of time. If pets are not used to leashes, collars, harnesses (especially cats), it is advisable to accustom your pet to these also. If you have a pet that does not have some basic obedience training, or your pet is not used to strangers, etc., work on these now. Not only will it be a better life for you and your pets working with them to being comfortable in these situations in case of a disaster, but everyone will be able to live better at home if there were no disaster also. Again, helping your pets now, will help you and them later.
- Contact your veterinarian or pet professional for a list of emergency animal shelters. Click here to view many shelters in NH.
- Check with your local animal welfare shelter to determine if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets. Animal shelters may be over burdened caring for the animals they already have, as well as those displaced by disaster, so this should be your last resort.
- Ask friends and relatives outside your immediate area if they would be willing to take in you and your pets in a disaster. If you have more than one pet, they may be more comfortable if kept together, but be prepared to house them separately.
- Choose a Designated Caregiver. This is best when you take considerable time and thought. You should make plans for a temporary home for your pets in the event of an emergency (and you may need to make arrangements for a permanent home in the event you can no longer care for your pet, if you become incapacitated or worse).
- If you have not prepared a will and a trust, now is the time to do this. If you already have a will and a trust and your pets are not included, this may also be the time that you consider adding your pets to your wills and trusts if something should happen to you. Unlike a will, a trust provides for your pet immediately, and can apply not only if you die but if you become disabled (call your wills & trust lawyer for more information).
- Professional Pet Sitting Etc. and Dori have been placed in quite a few trusts by their clients to be notified in case of an owner’s passing to care for pets until they go to the prearranged home in the trust, or they have entrusted the company to find a permanent home.
If you are interested in becoming part of the NH Animal Disaster Response Team (NHDART), go to the website or contact our office at 603-888-8088, we will give you information on where to go and what you need to do.
Make a Disaster Emergency Kit
- Make an emergency kit (make a kit for you, a kit for your cat, and a kit for your dogs) and put everything in a plastic container, ready to go at a moments notice. You can use water proof luggage, duffel bags, Rubbermaid storage containers, trash cans, etc. Remember that no one can predict mother nature, you may be evacuated much longer than you originally thought, so pack for an extended stay. If you do not need everything you bring, great, save it for the next time.
- Make a list of items (not in your emergency kit like photos, your grandmother’s ring, etc.) you want to take or itemize what you may need to do for the emergency and post it on the inside of your bedroom door. Purchase an inexpensive lockbox or a small fire proof safe to place these important items in. If you need to leave you can bring this with you. Making your list ahead and having these important items in an easily accessible place will ensure that you won’t be scrambling when disaster happens. It is best to prepare this list when you are calm and over a period of time with much thought. You will not be able to think of everything in a crisis. Practice time (how long it takes you to do everything from packing the car to actually driving away), in many cases you are only given 15 minutes to 24 hours to evacuate.
- Now is the time to check what you have for insurance on your home and belongings. Make sure that you have guaranteed replacement” if your home and belongings are completely destroyed. Also ask about inflation in rebuilding, etc. It is advisable to take pictures of your home inside and out. Take pictures of each room, include all your belongings and if possible, write down an inventory.
- Scan all photos (personal and for insurance) and place on a CD, put family videos on DVD, make a list of all bank numbers, credit card numbers, include institutions phone numbers, all important documents (home mortgage, insurance – life, house, health, passports, etc.
- For all important documents, photos, CDs, DVDs, etc. if you can make three copies of each, and place one copy with a trusted friend or family member, second copy in a bank security box with the third (or originals ) with you. This way if anything ever happened you will have access to this important information (and memories), one way or another if one or two are unavailable.
- If you ever need to be evacuated due to unsafe conditions – anything can happen. Everything could be fine and you can return to your everything could go very wrong and everything in a 5 mile radius could be completely destroyed. So when you plan, plan for the worst. When you evacuate, you will not be able to bring everything you have stored for a disaster. It is just not feasible to bring everything, so you need to decide when you are calm and not in a disastrous situation (in a trauma situation, we may not make wise thought out choices) what is important to bring and what you must leave behind.
- It is recommended by all sources to have a supply of food and water for pets and people and medications if needed. One month’s supply is best.
- Canned food stores best but rotate cans using the oldest and replacing with new. Buy flip top cans or keep a manual can opener (in case of no electricity).
- Keep dry pet food in airtight containers (never leave dry pet food in bags on concrete, as concrete depletes nutrients and moisture through the bag). Also, check these plastic containers to make sure they are “food quality” containers. Many plastics leach chemicals into food products that are not good for consumption.
- Have extra bowls (disposable bowls or paper plates do not have to be cleaned between uses, so you do not use up much needed water).
- Make sure that you have spoons for mixing food, disposable is good.
- Buy a small grill with a supply of charcoal to cook with, in case you lose electricity. Gas grills are great, however, keep an extra full propane tank. Also keep in mind if you could not obtain more gas/propane.
- It is recommended 2 gallons per person per day, 1 gallon per pet per day, One month’s supply is best. This is a lot of water, so at the first sign of disaster fill empty containers and tubs.
- If tap water is unsuitable for human consumption then it is unsuitable for animal consumption.
- Store drinking water in tightly sealed plastic containers.
- Do not store water in direct sunlight (will grow algae). Rotate water every 2-6 months.
- Have extra water and bowls/bottles on hand for pets.
- The best situation is for you and your family to be in your home together, self contained. Check into alternative energies – solar, wind. There are many solar products to produce energy to run household items. Some items to have on hand – solar and/or battery powered lights, emergency TV/radio to keep up to date on information, CB radios may come in handy also.
- If you must leave your home, the best situation is for your family and pets to stay together. If your pets can not stay where your family is staying, spend as much time with them as possible. This will keep them calm and prevent others from bothering your pets. KEEP IN MIND – pets have been stolen in a crisis situation.
- Purchase wire collapsible cages to house cats and small dogs (and other small pets). Make sure it is large enough to put a litterbox, food, water and a small area for the pet to sleep (this will help if you need to keep the pets contained).
- Each carrier should be labeled with pets inside, owner information & numbers, general care and vaccine history. Keep copies of medical records in safe dry container with pets, a copy with you and a third copy in a safe place.
- To help keep a pet calm, bring a blanket to cover the cage.
- Also, bring a lock to lock the cage door so that the door can not accidentally come open by accident or by curious people if you are in a shelter (a combination lock is best, keys can become lost or misplaced).
- Bring a harness and leash for exercising pets out side of the cage.
- Bring extra collars, harnesses, and leashes and a portable tie out if needed (never leave your pet unsupervised when out of carriers).
- Bring pet beds and toys if they are easily transportable and there is room, especially if they can help keep your pet happy and calm.
- Make sure pets have access to water – obtain a good quality water bottle made for carriers (bowls can be tipped over and create a mess).
- Try to keep to some schedule for feeding and exercising.
- Be aware of temperatures where your pets are housed – it should not be too hot or too cold.
- If you are evacuated bring a small container of dish soap and disinfectant (Purelle).
- Bring a minimum of FOUR rolls of paper towels (more if space allows), small bags to dispose of waste, Litter scoops, pooper scoopers, litterboxes (bring extra disposable litterboxes , aluminum roasting pans work great).
- Bring enough litter, One month’s supply is best (try to use less than you normally would).
- Have a human first aid kit (Pre-made kits& MORE )and a first aid kit & book for your animals. Pre-assembled animal & human first aid kits can be purchased or go to one of the organizations at the end of this article and ask for a list of items to make your own –
- During or after a disaster and in high stress, a pet’s behavior can temporarily change, packing a muzzle is a good idea in case behavior becomes less than desirable, plus your pet may be in close quarters with other pets and may be cared for by people they do not know (especially if something happens to you).
- If your pet is stressed and does not travel well or hates unfamiliar surroundings, talk with your veterinarian about possibilities of medications to keep on hand in an emergency.
- Have any long term medications, for you or your pets. One month’s supply is best.
- If you have any medical conditions that others should be aware of, wear a medical alert bracelet so that people will know if you can not speak for any reason.
- If your animal is on a long term medication or has a medical condition (allergies, diabetic, kidney failure, FIP, etc.), have a tag made indicating this and put it on your animal’s collar (same idea as an alert bracelet for people).
- Also check out the Health section below for more information
- Have a collar and ID tag for any animal that can wear them (remember to include the above medical conditions).
- Use safe break away collars for cats. All cats (and dogs) should have collars and ID and be used to wearing them all of the time.
- On the collar and/or tag include your name, home phone number, an alternate phone number and your address.
- Another permanent form of ID, which can be used in addition to a collar and tag is micro chipping, in case collars and tags fall off. Check with Animal Shelters or your Veterinarian.
- Attach a temporary tag with the phone number and address of your temporary shelter (if you know it), or of a friend or relative outside buy temporary tags that you can write on and set them aside in your disaster kit. Another good idea when you are traveling or visiting with your pet, attach this temporary tag with the temporary vacation information, just in case your pet gets loose.
- Have multiple copies of current (within 6 months) photos of your animals to help locate them should they get lost.
- Include yourself in some photos as proof of ownership.
- As stated above, take photos of your house and belongings inside and out for insurance. Put all photos (personal and insurance) on CDs. Put all taped memories on DVDs. Make three copies of everything, one copy to a trusted friend or family member, one copy in a bank security box and the third copy with you. That way, no matter what happens, you will never lose your memories and have necessary proof for insurance to start your life again if everything becomes destroyed.
- Make a medical sheet for each member of the family, include things such as blood type, surgeries, dates and type of vaccinations (include all childhood & adult vaccines received), any known allergies, all medications being taken, any surgeries and/or medical conditions, list last few readings for blood pressure, etc. This will help medical personnel if you needed medical care in the event of a disaster, if you could not speak and access to your medical history was not available. This information is required to be carried on each person who does disaster response. It may come in handy for each person to have, just in case.
- Check with your doctor about any vaccinations that may need to be updated. Some childhood vaccinations that you have received as a child, may need to be boostered as an adult. Adult Vaccine Schedule
- Do a similar medical sheet for each pet
- Keep your pets’ vaccinations current. This will protect them if they need to be housed with other animals. Keep a notebook with all medical records ready to go. You may need to show proof of vaccinations.
- It is advisable to keep all important paperwork in water proof containers (Ziploc bags or plastic container).
- In the event you are unavailable for pet care for whatever reason – It is also advisable to leave information on pets’ crate for feeding schedules, behavior problems, and a written permission slip for the pet caregiver to obtain medical for your pet in the event of a medical emergency (you may need to include a credit card number and expiration date with your signature just in case the emergency veterinarian will not treat if there is not a financially responsible party – this can be tricky because you do not want your CC information in the wrong hands).
- Bring grooming items, grooming helps calm some pets and will help pets that easily mat.
What happens if you are not home at the time of a disaster?
- You should choose someone who lives within walking distance to your home to check on and care for your pets. They may also need to transport your pets to safety.
- They should have a key to your home (or access 24/7)and know where carriers are and your disaster/emergency care box is, so they can grab and go. Key lockboxes attach to your home, open with a code (can be changed as often as you wish) and are a great way to have emergency access to your home with a phone call to whoever you feel comfortable without having many keys out and about. (Key lockboxes are sold by Prof. Pet Sitting Etc.)
- If you have a pet sitter or another company caring for your pet, do not rely on them. A good pet care company will have asked you for a person you trust close by to care for your pets in the event of an emergency. A pet care company may not live close to your home and they may need to evacuate themselves along with many other clients’ pets. It is always best to have a back up person within walking distance to your home. This person must be within walking distance because if your neighborhood is evacuated, no one from outside the area will be allowed in the evacuated neighborhood.
- Have your person meet you in a prearranged location to obtain your pets if they needed to be evacuated when you were not home.
What about pets other than cats or dogs?
- Most of the suggestions above are pertaining to dogs and cats. Horses, livestock, small pets, reptiles, birds, etc. all have special needs. Be prepared for their care. Also, remember that all pets will react very differently under stress. Outside your home and in your car, ALWAYS keep dogs securely leashed and transport all cats in carriers. Do not leave pets unattended anywhere. Even the most trustworthy pets may panic, hide, try to escape, or even bite and scratch. Being prepared can save your life and the life of your pets.
- Hooved animals can be identified by taking a permanent marker to the hooves. Write your phone number, so when found you can be notified.
- Take off all halters, leads, blankets. In a weather disaster, these things can get caught or entangled, possibly injuring your animals. In a fire disaster, they can catch fire or melt into the animals’ skin.
- Leave gates and doors open to give them the best chance, depending on the disaster. However, take care, because your animals running loose can also pose a problem. Whenever, possible, it is best to transport them to safety outside of the disaster area before evacuation is imminent.
What about other emergencies such as a Pandemic like the Bird (Avian) Flu?
- According to Dr. Michael Osterholm as seen on the Oprah Show airing 1-24-06 (contact Harpo or go to Oprah.com for more information), it is not a question of if a pandemic of some sort will happen it is when. He states:
- You should have enough food, water, medications and all essentials for you and your pets to stay in your homes, (not leaving for any reason) for up to 5 WEEKS.
- If you need to leave your home while the virus is in the air, purchase special masks with air filters to screen out Avian Flu germs.
- Purchase plastic and duct tape to cover windows, doors and vents. Ahead of time, cut to fit each opening and store. This is to seal your home, to prevent the air born virus from coming into your home.
- During and pandemic, wash hands at every opportunity.
- You may consider getting vaccinated for pneumonia (Pneumovax). Most people who die from the Avian flu, died with pneumonia. The vaccine would be given to you now and then you are revaccinated at age 65 (check with your doctor).
- It is also advised to become vaccinated every year with the flu vaccine. Some experts believe that the Avian Flu will mutate to a humane form when a human that already has the flu also becomes infected with the Avian flu simultaneously.
So to recap:
At the first hint of disaster, act to protect you, your family and your pet.
- Leave early – don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation order. An unnecessary trip is far better than waiting too long to leave safely with your pets.
- Call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements.
- Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies (including food, water, medications and other essentials) are ready at a moment’s notice.
- Bring all pets into the house so that you won’t have to search for them if you need to leave in a hurry.
- Make sure that all pets have collars, ID and medical information, and temporary tag with temporary information.
For more information on Disaster Planning click on or contact:
- The American Red Cross,
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 1-800-745-0243
- FEMA Information for Pet Owners
- Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) 1-301-258-3010
- Red Rover Responders ( formerly EARS) 1-916-429-2457
- American Humane Association 1-800-227-4645
- ASPCA: Animed, Preparing for Disasters
- or contact Dorinne Whynott at Professional Pet Sitting Etc. 1-603-888-8088, www.profpet.dev.cc. you can also go to our website
Dorinne Whynott has been in animal welfare since 1978, is the owner of Professional Pet Sitting Etc., the founder of the Animal Care and Education Center of New Hampshire, the Animal Angels Network, the NH Pet Sitters’ Association and a co-founder of the NH Pet Expo.
Ms. Whynott is certified for Animal Disaster Response by the American Humane Association, Humane Society of the United States and FEMA. She is also the head of the response team in Hillsborough County for the NH Animal Disaster Response Team (NHDART).
If you are interested in becoming part of the NH Animal Disaster Response Team (NHDART), go to the website or contact our office at 603-888-8088, we will give you information on where to go and what you need to do.