Pet evacuation tips

Well, let’s face it. Our recent local fires will not be the last time we see serious fires in Stanislaus County. If we can believe the scientists who are pointing to climate warming trends, hotter, drier times are here with more severe weather events. Just as rethinking how to “harden” your property has become important to people living in fire and flood-prone areas, we, pet owners, must take evacuation planning seriously.

A couple of weeks ago, we had an exciting few days at Best Friends Pet Resort & Canine Academy. It started with one phone call late afternoon Monday because of a voluntary evacuation order for the Diablo area, then another. Soon, the calls kept coming every hour or so until 10 p.m.

I could see fire flare-ups on the mountain from my vantage point across town.

By Tuesday, some of the pets had gone home. Then on Wednesday came the mandatory evacuation, and we started all over bringing in even more pets. My staff and I sprang into action and moved some of our rescue dogs to the original kennel to make room. By the end of the day, we had all the cats and dogs settled in, and one space indoors left.

What did we learn about our role in helping out with pets needing a place to stay? Lots. Below are tips that might not be included in the standard pet evacuation protocols.

  • Plan your escape route to include motels that take pets. Call now and ask if they would take your family and pets in an evacuation, the conditions, and cost, so you have no unpleasant surprises added to your escape from fire or flood. Wherever the Red Cross was sending people, not all pets were welcome.
  • If you know you will need boarding for pets, contact your chosen boarding kennel as soon as possible as the local ones may fill. A good idea is to sign up with the kennel ahead of time, so it has all your information on file. At the least, have a tote with needed medicines and documents, perhaps on a flash drive, that you can hand over with all the pertinent information. If you have livestock, know whom you can call to help transport to your pre-planned safe space. I am told that animal services will be on call once the local emergency center activates them, but that may be too late for your immediate needs.
  • Have carriers for all cats and at least your small pets. It was scary to see people walk into our facility with wide-eyed cats in blankets. Foldable crates make for easy storage. Set the crates up in your car at the first inkling of danger and, of course, test that they all fit. For that matter, be sure you have a big enough car or multiple cars available to transport all your pets.
  • Get your pets and livestock microchipped and include a contact outside your home area in case your cell service makes you unreachable. If your pets don’t wear collars, have emergency collars ready to go with ID tags and a phone number written on the collars with a Sharpie. Be sure the collars are tight enough that someone could use a leash to walk the dog and the collar won’t get pulled off. And if you have multiple pets, it’s easier on kennel staff if the name of the pet is written on each collar or tag.
  • My tipsters advised not leaving halters on livestock in case the fire burned it into flesh; here, you have to balance whether there is other identification on the animal. Some also suggested using a Sharpie to write your contact number on the animals, and on hooves, or tying a luggage tag with contact information on manes or tails.
  • If you have to leave your pets, there are a couple of options. Most people believed animals were better off outside than in a structure, although I have seen the opposite recommendation. For livestock, most people closed barn doors, opened up corrals, left water and food, and turned on sprinklers where possible. Some would leave the barn cats and chickens. All would try to take their dogs, but some people were stretched, having room for them all. A shout out to friends might be the solution in a pinch, but planning ahead will save lives.
  • And then there was the final question whether you would leave pets if you had no way to take them or would you stay. Fortunately, disaster preparedness planning now recognizes the public health benefit of including pets during evacuations. Tragically, there may be circumstances where that doesn’t happen, but we can hope that with good planning and a dose of luck, all will survive.

I want to thank the people who shared their plans with me, many of which are included here, and to the very generous evacuees who made a hectic and trying time workable. Also, a shout out is needed for Two Paws Up Kennels and Top Notch Kennels who were on standby to help.

HSUS has a comprehensive list of what to include in your pet evacuation kit.

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