As current events in Louisiana demonstrate, disaster can strike at any time. What does this mean for dog owners? It means taking steps without delay to ensure your furry family member's survival, and planning ahead to get your pet organized. Muttshack Animal Rescue Foundation has done dog's work in the Gulf region since 2005, when the group saved hundreds of animals from perishing during Hurricane Katrina. Dogster debriefed Amanda St. John, who co-founded Muttshack with her husband, Martin. Here are her 12 expert survival tips.
1. Get Spot a MicrochipHundreds of pets get lost every year when disasters strike. During the confusion, animals can travel great distances from home. They may run away trying to escape the chaos, or may be rescued by a Good Samaritan and taken far, far away. Statistics show many rescued pets are never returned to their owners. Why? Because of lack of identification. So the first order of preparation is to check your pet's ID tag, Amanda advises. "Is it still legible and current? Is there enough information to find you, even if your phone has been disconnected? Does it have a street address or email?"
"Getting pets microchipped is so worth it! There is an army of shelters, vets, and rescue organizations that will return your pet from just about anywhere in the United States, if he or she has a chip," Amanda says. "A scanner will ID the chip, and the chip number is indexed on a national database. It's up to you to make sure your information is regularly updated on the database; for instance, if you move to a new address after adopting your dog."
2. Take photographsOne picture really does tell a thousand words, so take a photo of your dog as he looks today and place it in a plastic Ziploc bag in your Pet Disaster Kit.
3. Make a Pet Disaster KitFor each pet you'll need a folder with the pet's name with your address, phone number, and email; a current photo; and copies of current distemper and rabies shots, other immunizations, and licenses. These are required by boarding facilities, and you may need to board your dogs during the emergency.
4. Help the people who might help your best friends"You might not be home when disaster strikes or the order comes to evacuate," Amanda warns. "The disaster might also be localized to just your own home -- like a fire. If your animals are kept indoors or at home during the day, make sure that you have the information about how many pets there are, and their species, displayed on a laminated sign near your front door." For instance, the sign might read: POLICE/FIRE DEPARTMENT: ANIMALS LIVE HERE. 2 DOGS, 1 CAT, 1 BIRD.
Also, corral your pet leashes and collars on a hook near your front door, so your critters can be swiftly secured, by you or (if you're not there) a rescuer. Faced with a stranger, dogs will comply with being leashed by their own, familiar-scented leashes -- but they might be terrified of a rescue rope and resist rescue. Stack up empty animal carriers so they're ready to be deployed at a moment's notice.
5. Set up a buddy systemDo this with a trusted neighbor who also has pets (this is also super-helpful for last-minute pet-sitting during a non-disaster emergency -- if, say, you have to spend time with a family member in the hospital). In an emergency they (or you) will pick up the pets and meet at a pre-arranged location. If you've been exchanging pet-sitting favors, you'll already have house keys and be familiar with each other's pets, so you'll have a better chance of finding hiding animals than someone who's never met the pets before. Also, let your emergency buddy know where you keep your Pet Disaster Kit and pet carriers.
6. Moving animals to a safe locationEvacuate pets early -- don't delay. Bring a safe carrier or crate for each pet. Since pets are not allowed inside shelters for humans, you may need to board them or take them to a friend's. Boarding facilities will need proof of immunizations, especially distemper shots, so make sure those are included in your Pet Disaster Kit.
8. Update, updateUpdate and restock your supply of business cards -- you'll need to exchange information with lots of people, quickly and efficiently, in the event that you are looking for a lost pet. Write your pet's description on the back (better yet, have a photo of the dog printed right on there).
Also update your address book to include pet emergency numbers (including the numbers of your vet, local animal shelter, and animal control) and alternate housing numbers (boarding kennels, vet hospitals with kennels, and pet-friendly hotels). "Getting your pet into a secured environment quickly is key, whether it's home or someplace like home," Amanda says. "The longer the pet is out, the greater the chance they may get lost or injured."
9. Stock up on suppliesRefresh emergency rations, including cans of pet food and jugs of water, plus food bowls and treats. Also, make sure your first-aid kit is stocked with povidone iodine, hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment, bandages, gauze, and tape. Include a small blanket and a large plastic bag in your carryall. The bag could become ground cover or a raincoat for your dog, and a dry chew-bone will keep Spot distracted during a long confinement. And don't forget paper towels and poop-scoop bags.
10. Keep your dog calmDogs can become fearful and agitated during an evacuation, so keep speaking softly to your pets to keep them calm and to reassure them that you'll all be going back home together when it's over.
11. Make a lost dog flyerDo this ahead of time, and make a couple dozen copies -- this can prove to be a dogsend if she does become lost during a disaster. And don't forget to visit MuttShack's page on Facebook to report a lost or found pet. "You'll find an outpouring of help from animal bloggers," Amanda promises.
12. Going home againWhen you return to your animal house, inspect the place for any possible new dangers before you let your pets loose.