No matter where you live, most regions have some form of seasonal weather changes that can fluctuate from mild to severe conditions. These seasonal changes can impact an area’s inhabitants as well as their pets and service animals. This is especially applicable for areas that regularly are impacted by hurricanes, forest fires, floods, or heavy snowstorms. If you are a service dog handler or dog owner, there are several steps you can take in preparation for potential events or circumstances under which you are temporarily unable to reach your dog.
- Establish a designated caregiver to look after a dog during an emergency.
- Ensure your dog has a collar with ID tags.
- If your dog is a service animal, have it formally registered with the USA Service Dog Registration or one of your area’s service dog organizations.
- Make sure you have enough food and fresh water for your dog to last a minimum of three days.
- Place a rescue alert sticker on a front door to notify first responders of the pets inside who need evacuation.
- Maintain the stock of your first aid kit and any pet medications.
- Create a folder for your dog containing: medical records, veterinarian contact information, and a list of pet-friendly shelters or accommodations in case of evacuation.
- Keep your dog’s vaccinations and parasite prevention medication up-to-date. If your dog unexpectedly needs to spend time in a shelter or boarding kennel, with increased potential exposure to illness, this can help them stay healthy. During hurricanes, there are increases in illnesses such as leptospirosis and heart disease.
- Don’t let your dog drink from water sources that you would not drink from yourself to avoid contaminants like bacteria or parasites.
The Benefits of Microchipping in the event of Natural Disasters
When bad weather or natural disasters occur, owners and handlers can sometimes be separated from their dogs. In circumstances like this, having microchipped your dog can greatly increase your chances of being reunited. Microchips are a common measure used to assist with identification when a dog is lost (the chips do not function like a GPS). Chips are about the size of a grain of rice and are placed under a dog’s skin by a veterinarian, commonly in the loose skin of the dog’s back. The chip contains a unique ID number that can be scanned from a few inches away by a radio-frequency transponder to look up your contact information. The placement is no more invasive than a vaccination. However, it is also important to keep the contact information connected to the microchip up to date. This is often managed through the organization which created your dog’s microchip or your veterinarian.
History Surrounding Pet Evacuation and Policy Development
Disorganization and a lack of comprehensive preparedness, specifically during hurricane Katrina, raised the profile of the importance of including pets and service animals in evacuation plans. Countless families were separated or forced to abandon their pets during Katrina due to hazardous conditions and restrictive policies not allowing for evacuation resources to accommodate animals. Many people in reaction to these restrictions decided to remain in harm’s way rather than leave their pets. An estimation from the National Guard coordinating rescue efforts during Katrina reported that 30-40% of the individuals refusing to leave hazardous areas were the result of wanting to care for their pets and receiving no alternatives to abandoning them. A less desirable alternative many individuals chose to take at the time with varying success was to smuggle their pets in bags, suitcases, inside coats, or baggy pants.
These extreme circumstances, estrangements, as well as losses, were felt deeply and led to the growing incorporation of organizations like the ASPCA into collaborative evacuations. Thankfully, it is becoming much more common practice for representatives of state Humane Societies and the ASPCA to coordinate with evacuees from floods and other natural disasters at rescue pick-up points. This way these animal welfare organizations can temporarily take in animals and place them in shelters to later be reunited with their owners. This is a much more amenable alternative to facing the difficult decision of protecting one’s own life or welfare at the tragic cost of abandoning a beloved pet or service animal.
Pet Disaster Relief Programs
Some organizations such as the American Kennel Club have also developed pet disaster relief programs like AKC Reunite in response to the impacts of hurricane Katrina. AKC has taken part in spearheading legislative policy changes and set up a program centered around providing emergency management teams with disaster relief trailers that hold supplies for up to 65 pets and are wired for electricity to be run from a generator or alternative electrical supplies.
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- Corern, S. (n.d.). The Dogs of Hurricane Katrina. Modern Dog lifestyle magazine.
- Racine, E. (2020, June 24). Hurricane Preparedness for Dog Owners. American Kennel Club.