Interview with Susan Keyes, President of SoCal Animal Response Team, About Disaster Preparedness

Whether man-made or natural, disasters are generally out of our control.

But as pet owners, we have a responsibility to do our best to keep our dogs and cats safe. And no matter the cause, there are things we can do to deal with disasters when they happen.

Since June is National Pet Preparedness Month, it’s a great time to remind pet owners about the importance of having a plan in place for an emergency, according to Susan Keyes, president of SoCal Animal Response Team (SCART) in Huntington Beach, California. SCART is a volunteer-based nonprofit that responds to animals’ needs and assists other agencies during a disaster or crisis.

Here’s what she had to say about disaster prep for pets:

The Honest Kitchen: What are some tips for prepping a pet household for a disaster or emergency?

Susan Keyes: Assemble an animal-ready pack kit, which should include a pet first aid kit. Create an evacuation plan and practice the plan with your family and neighbors. Make sure your neighbor knows you have pet(s), in case you’re not home when a disaster strikes. Also make sure they’re comfortable with your pets. Choose a location to meet if you’re unable to return home after the disaster. Exchange vet information and have a permission slip on file with the vet, authorizing your pets to get emergency treatment if you cannot be located. If you’re living in an apartment, make sure your animals are on record with the property management.

Add a pet alert sticker to your front window for responders. This sticker includes the type and number of pets in your home. Know your pets’ favorite hiding spots. Block off areas behind and under furniture to reduce the number of hiding spots.

Keep a collar on your dog, and leashes and cat carriers in an easy-to-access spot near an exit point so you can grab them on your way out. Have a nylon-type rope slip lead to create an easy-on, easy-off collar and leash, all in one.

THK: What should pet owners keep in mind when a disaster strikes?

SK: Your pet is entirely dependent on you. Take your pets with you. Pets that are turned loose or left behind to fend for themselves are likely to become victims of exposure, starvation, predators, contaminated food or water, or accidents. Even if you think you will be gone a few days, take your pet with you.

Leave as early as possible. Confirm emergency shelter for you and your pets or locate the pet-friendly hotels in your area. Bring pets into the house and confine them so you can leave quickly. Try to evacuate to a safe location as close to home as possible.

Pets become stressed during in-house confinement, so consider crating them for their safety and comfort. Never leave them behind in a crate or carrier. They will be rendered helpless until you return or someone else reaches them.

THK: What goes into the animal ready pack for dogs and cats?

SK: ID information for pets; photo of pet with family members; copy of vaccination records; veterinarian information; medication with dosage (rotate); animal first aid kit; extra leash, collar or harness (slip leash); muzzle; carrier, crate and/or kennel; food for two weeks (rotate); water for two weeks (rotate); food and water bowls; plastic dog poop bags; cat litter and box; towels and/or sheets (for bedding and/or useful tool for capturing small pets).

A pillow case helps with evacuating cats, small pets and reptiles quickly. Place your pet in a pillow case and tie a loose knot on top to avoid escape. Put the pet in a carrier once outside, untie the knot and close the door.

Toys and chew items/treats; emergency phone numbers; evacuation cage with cover; include out-of-state contact numbers.

THK: What about after the disaster?

SK: Release your pets indoors only. They could encounter dangerous wildlife and debris if allowed outside unsupervised and unrestrained. Survey the area inside and outside to identify hazards—sharp objects, dangerous materials, dangerous wildlife, contaminated water, downed power lines, etc.

Examine your pets closely. Contact a veterinarian if you observe injuries or signs of illness. Reintroduce food in small servings. Allow uninterrupted rest/sleep for pets to recover from the trauma and stress.

Familiar scents and landmarks may have changed, which can confuse pets. Lost animals may be wandering. Avoid contact with other animals; they may carry disease. Behavior of pet can change following a disaster. Quiet and friendly pets can become aggressive or defensive. Pets sense danger and hide—especially cats.

If your pets are lost, check animal control and animal shelters daily. Post lost pet notices and notify local law enforcement, animal control, vets and neighbors of any lost animals.

Meet the Author: Jessica Peralta

Jessica Peralta has been a journalist for more than 15 years and an animal lover all her life. She has had dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish, frogs, and rabbits. Her current children are a German shepherd named Guinness and a black kitten named Riot (and he lives up to that name). It’s because of her love for animals that she focused her journalistic career to the world of holistic animal care and pet nutrition. In between keeping Riot and Guinness out of mischief, she’s constantly learning about all the ways she can make them healthier and happier.

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