Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Prepare your pets for the next disaster

Series on Hurricane Preparedness in Florida

Disaster recovery officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Florida Long-Term Recovery Office and Florida’s State Emergency Response Team (SERT) urge you to have a disaster plan for your pets in preparation for the new hurricane season.

"The destructive hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 underscored the importance of accounting for animal needs during major disasters," said Scott Morris, FEMA Director for Florida Long-Term Recovery.

With hurricane season upon us, your pets need to be included in your family emergency plan.

"People must have a disaster plan that includes their pets," said Laura Bevan, southeast regional director for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). "Our best advice is if you evacuate, take your pet with you."

Bevan has been working with local governments and volunteer groups in establishing pet-friendly shelters. Many Florida counties have shelters where people can evacuate with their pets, including Broward, Marion and Orange Counties. Bevan describes the shelters as having "people in one building and the animals close by in another part of the building and the people take care of their own pets."

To find out if there is a pet-friendly shelter in your area, call your county emergency management office or check the office's Web site. You should also contact your veterinarian or local humane society for information on preparing your pets for an emergency.

Before the disaster: Have a safe place to take your pets

• Plan your evacuation strategy and don't forget your pet! If you plan to shelter your pet-work it into your evacuation route planning.

• Service animals that assist people with disabilities are allowed in Red Cross shelters. It may be difficult to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead. Do not wait until disaster strikes to do your research. Many communities are developing pet-friendly shelter plans, check to see if your local emergency shelter plan includes pets.

• Specialized pet shelters, animal control shelters, veterinary clinics and friends and relatives out of harm's way are ALL potential refuges for your pet during a disaster.

• Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on number, size, and species. Ask if "no pet" policies could be waived in an emergency. Keep a list of "pet friendly" places, including phone numbers, with other disaster information and supplies. If you have notice of an impending disaster, call ahead for reservations. Go to to search on-line for pet friendly hotels and motels.

• Prepare a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians who could shelter animals in an emergency; include 24-hour phone numbers.

• Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster. Animal shelters may be overburdened caring for the animals they already have as well as those displaced by a disaster, so this should be your last resort.

• Prepare a portable disaster supply kit for your pet

• Keep items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers that can be carried easily

• Proper identification, including immunization records, and current photos

• Ample supply of food and water

• A carrier or cage, pet beds and toys

• Medications, medical records and a first aid kit

• Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals can't escape.

• Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.

Know what to do as a disaster approaches

Often, warnings are issued hours, even days, in advance. At the first hint of disaster, act to protect your pet.

Call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements for you and your pets.

Check to be sure your pet disaster supplies are ready to take at a moment’s notice.

Bring all pets into the house so that you won’t have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry.

Make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars and securely fastened up-to-date identification.

Attach the phone number and address of your temporary shelter, if you know it, or of a friend or relative outside the disaster area. You can buy temporary tags or put adhesive tape on the back of your pet’s ID tag, adding information with an indelible pen.

You may not be home when the evacuation order comes. Find out if a trusted neighbor would be willing to take your pets and meet you at a prearranged location. This person should be comfortable with your pets, know where your animals are likely to be, know where your pet disaster supplies kit is kept, and have a key to your home. If you use a pet-sitting service, they may be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.

Planning and preparation will enable you to evacuate with your pets quickly and safely. But bear in mind that animals react differently under stress. Outside your home and in the car, keep dogs securely leashed. Transport cats in carriers. Don’t leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off. The most trustworthy pets may panic, hide, try to escape, or even bite or scratch. And, when you return home, give your pets time to settle back into their routines. Consult your veterinarian if any behavior problems persist.

Check out these Web sites for further information on disaster preparations for your pet:

Florida State Emergency Response Team:;

Humane Society of the US:;

Information on Pet-friendly hotels:

FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). FEMA became part of the US Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.

SERT is a collaboration of Florida’s state agencies led by the state coordinating officer. SERT’s mission is to ensure that Florida is prepared to respond to emergencies, recover from them, and mitigate their impacts. Visit for the latest information on the hurricane relief efforts.

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