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Preparing for the Worst With Your Pets

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month and it's important to be prepared to care for yourself and your pets in case of an emergency. 

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month and everyone with pets should make a plan for what they would do in case of an emergency. Some of you may be thinking, "Well, I dont live in tornado alley or I'm nowhere near the coast" and therefore believe you have nothing to worry about. Others may think of loved ones impacted by the current wildfires, or know someone who lost everything to a flood or an earthquake. But I bet many of you don't truly believe it would ever happen to you too. Not really.

Whether or not you are in an area that is prone to a particular type of natural disaster, everyone everywhere is vulnerable in some way or another. House and wild fires, chemical spills, ice storms, blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and other disasters do not discriminate. That's the thing about disasters - they are unexpected and can happen to anyone anywhere. If we knew when they were coming, things wouldn't be quite so disastrous. It's the unpreparedness, the disruption, the chaos that throws everything into a tailspin.

Though you can never completely prepare for a disaster, there are things you can do to make things a little safer for your pets.

1. Current identification. Microchip your pets, ensure your register your chip online and get an ID tag and collar for your pets if they don't already have one. Mark your calendars to update your online microchip account and ID tags annually. I have deployed twice with the American Humane Association's Red Star Disaster Response Team following tornadoes and once with the ASPCA who seized an animal control facility with stolen pets. The few that had tags and the fewer with microchips were reunited very quickly. The others waited days to be photographed, examined, logged, and physically identified. Sadly, most were never reunited with their owners and were placed in new homes.

2. Arrange for a place for your pets to go. Find out your area's disaster shelter plan for animals, as not all Red Cross human shelters accept pets. If the disaster is limited to your home or area (such as a fire), having arrangements with a veterinarian or boarding facility will come in handy. A list of pet friendly hotels and trusted family and friends who your pet knows are also excellent options.

3. Pack an emergency pet bag. Include several days of food and fresh water for each pet, litter for cats, as well as blankets, non-breakable dishes, and extra leashes and collars with current ID tags. Be sure to include supplies for all of your pet species! Also include a flashlight and batteries (stored separately), cleaning supplies, paper towels, garbage bags, a first aid kit, and hand sanitizer. In a water proof bag, include clear color photos of your pets for identification, current medical records, current copies of prescriptions, and a list of emergency contact information. Mark your calendar to check your supplies and replace expired food every three months.

4. Write down a plan and share it with loved ones who you intend to have involved.

I do all of this and I truly hope you will never need it. I've had my emergency bag for nearly seven years. But I would so much rather make the effort and not need it, than lie awake in an emergency shelter, wondering where my pets are, and wishing I had done more.

Here's a list of some helpful resources:

ASPCA free safety pack, including a Save My Pet window sticker 

Red Rover Disaster Preparedness Advice

Lists of pet-friendly hotels:

Through her business Jones Animal Behavior, Katenna Jones provides private dog and cat behavior consulting services and group classes to New England pet owners, as well as seminars at both local and national events. Katenna is the former Director of Educational Programs for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and has also worked as the Animal Behaviorist for the American Humane Association and a Behaviorist and Investigator for the RISPCA. She has been involved in animal sheltering and rescue since 2000, is a disaster responder and instructor with Red Star Disaster Response and is a consultant for the ASPCA's Field Investigation Response Team. She is author of Fetching the Perfect Dog Trainer: Getting the Best for You and Your Dog and has contributed to numerous local and national publications. Katenna earned her Masters from Brown University where she studied animal behavior, learning and cognition. She is an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Certified Cat and Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. She shares her RI home with her husband, two adopted cats, and adopted dog.

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