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Every now and then when some natural disaster hits, I see stories in the press about abandoned pets or people being turned away from emergency shelters because they have pets with them, and I think: "I don't want to be those guys". I live in an area that isn't prone to disasters, but that doesn't mean that I'll never find myself in that situation.

I know that, just as for people, one needs to have an emergency kit with food, water, (litter in the case of the cats), anything medically needed, supplies, and so on. I'm not asking about the contents of the emergency kit. Rather, what I want to know is: suppose disaster strikes and I load up the cats (in carriers) and the gear in a car and get as far away as possible. What now? How do I find emergency housing that will take me and them? Or is my best bet to drive as far as possible and look for friends/relatives/inernet people? If it's frigid winter or very-hot summer we can't just live in the car for the duration, after all.

So my question is: what should I do (a) in advance and (b) during the emergency to ensure a safe place for my pets?

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Its great that you are thinking ahead, but in a true disaster, it might not be easy. I live in Virginia, when the earthquake hit a few years ago my cats freaked out and hid. If the earthquake reached disaster proportions, I do not think I would have been able to get my cats into a crate in any amount of time. –  Keltari Dec 12 '13 at 6:22

2 Answers 2

Planning

The first thing to consider is planning. It is recommended that you keep at least a week's supply of any consumables you will need for your pets in or near your emergency shelter. You should plan in an emergency how you plan to deal with your pets. You should also realize that during an emergency you pet is likely going to be acting differently than they will during normal calm periods. If you have an animal that is normally caged taking them out of the cage then you will want to make sure you have a transport carrier or cage ready that the animal can be safely kept in.

If you have more than one pet, make sure that everyone knows what to do with each of your pets during an emergency and set up who has the primary responsibility for each animal. Doing this will help get the animals to safety rather than trying to figure out what animals still need to be rescued.

Finally as sad as it is to lose a pet your life is much more valuable than that of your pet. Do not put yourself at great risk to save your pet. Running into a burning building to look for a loose pet is a lost bet. If the animal was loose it may already have escaped and run away. If it is trapped inside unless you know right where it is chances are more likely you will be injured than you will be able to save your pet. Tell the firefighters where the pet is, if they can save it they will.

Recovery after

Recently an area about 10 miles from my home lost over 1000 homes to an F4 tornado. The local vet clinics have been offering a weeks free boarding for animals to help their families get a chance to get on their feet. This is pretty common, as a friend of mine had the vet offer them the same when they lost their house to a fire. So I would recommend you call your vet and see if they can help, or if they can refer you to someone who can help.

There are also some families offering to foster animals until the families are back in a position to care for their animals. This is a risk but if you are unable to afford to board your animals for the months it may take to rebuild, this may be an option. I expect most of the people offering this service are doing so in good faith. But I would still want to vet them before I turned over any of my animals.

This is also something you can plan for. Talk with your family and friends and see if there is someone willing to commit to helping you out with your pets should the need arise. This is also something to think about in case you need someone to take care of your animals should you and your family become unable to. We have an arrangement for our dogs with one friend, and our rabbits with another. So if something were to happen we know they would be taken care of.

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Thanks for the good advice. I, too, have arrangements with a friend should something happen to me (she's even named in my will), but I realized that if a hurricane or earthquake hit us, we'd both be affected so that doesn't help with broad-hitting disasters (versus, say, a house fire where we'd help each other). –  Monica Cellio Dec 11 '13 at 14:04

In addition to Chad's suggestions, I'd recommend looking for places within range that will take pets and have a list in each direction you're likely to need to use, ordered by distance (the likely evacuation distance for a hurricane is quite different than for an earthquake, for instance).

I'd make sure to list the distance of the pet-friendly places, too, since a mass evacuation usually involves clogged highways and much slower than normal traffic - a place that's an hour away under normal travel conditions could take 8 hours to reach in a mass evacuation.

You should also make sure the list is kept up to date so that you can phone ahead to say pet friendly hotels and book emergency accommodation. If necessary, be prepared to camp in the car with your pets - it will cost you in fuel in frigid weather, but is doable.

A list of people you know who you've made prior arrangements with, complete with phone numbers, driving directions, and distances, is also a good idea, since many shelters don't take pets.

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