National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day: How You Can Help
May 13 is National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day. Veterinary teams play a key role in teaching clients how to care for their pets during emergency situations.
The veterinary community plays a key role in ensuring that animals are cared for properly should a disaster strike. Pet owners may not understand the importance of preparation for the safety of their animals in an emergency situation. When you see clients this week, be sure to educate them about preparing a strategy to care for their pets during a disaster.
Planning that happens in the middle of the disaster is really abbreviated planning, says Anne McCann, national emergency programs coordinator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Care.
“If we can come together ahead of time, identify the structures in the community through local emergency management, where [veterinary practices] can plug in and help to be part of the solution, that’s really critical to community resiliency” she says.
Pet Food and Supplies
Running out of pet food is the number one issue when dealing with an unexpected disaster situation. It is absolutely critical for pet owners to stock up and plan ahead with pet food for emergency situations.
McCann says that during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 she was shocked to see how quickly people ran out of pet food. Despite being given about a week's worth of notice about the storm, many pet owners were unprepared. “Almost immediately after the disaster, people needed pet food,” she says, “but the power was out, so they couldn't use the elevators in their apartment buildings and all of the stores were closed.”
Whether the pets are cats, dogs, backyard poultry or horses, food is the number one thing to make sure clients have enough of just in case. Experts recommend having enough water and dry pet food on hand to last up to 7 days.
As for pet supplies, owners should also have these items at the ready in case evacuation is required:
- Extra pet collars and leashes
- Copies of veterinary records
- Garbage bags and disinfectants
Pet owners will sometimes choose to leave their pets behind in an evacuation situation either because they have nowhere to bring their pets or no way of transporting them. But leaving them behind is a bad idea: If the home isn’t safe for humans, then it isn’t safe for pets.
Pets can become trapped or harmed if left home alone during an emergency. Make sure your clients are aware of the potential danger they could be inflicting on their pets, and help them choose another course of action if the time ever comes.
Pets that wear a fitted collar with a personalized identification tag that includes a contact name and phone number are the most likely to be reunited with their owners should they become separated.
Clients should know nearby evacuation routes, and they should have a handy list of places where their pets can be housed temporarily when an evacuation is imminent. Give clients a preferred list of boarding kennels and facilities, and instruct them to call their local shelters, pet-friendly hotels or friends and family members to see if they can take in the pet for a short time if necessary.
After the Disaster
A disaster can have long-term devastating effects not only on physical property but also on the mindset of the people and pets involved. Pets can experience trauma and post-traumatic stress just like humans can. It’s important to let your clients know to watch their animals closely for a few days after the disaster to see if their behavior or attitude has changed. Make sure clients leash their dogs when taking them outside to maintain close contact. Pets may become confused or lost if their environment has been altered.
“One of the key things to do after a disaster is an assessment to figure out what the effects of the disaster are on the animal population in that community,” McCann ssys. “Veterinarians play a key role in doing that.”
Most importantly, let your clients know that you are there for them every step of the way. Preparing for a disaster is scary but necessary. If they know that you have their back and are there to answer any questions, your clients will feel much more comfortable and ready for anything that comes their way.