We’ve seen the pictures on the nightly news. People stranded on roof tops or searching through the wreckage of their homes destroyed by wind, fire, or explosion. But what if those same people have animals? Where are they?
Often animals are not allowed in evacuation communities, except for service animals. Some people refuse to evacuate because they will not leave behind their beloved cat, dog, bird, or horse. What of the animals in agricultural use—cows, pigs, chickens? What is their fate during a natural or human-made disaster?
Before a disaster strikes, we should all be aware of our options. Just as our local fire departments implore us to create an evacuation plan from our homes, we should all be creating evacuation plans from our communities if we live in areas that is subject to extremes of weather and fire.
One way to keep things simple in an emergency is to remember the six Ps: people, pets, pills, personal computers, papers, and pictures. Everyone, in a family or a community, needs to know where everyone else is and how each will coordinate with others. Everyone also needs to know where the pets are and make sure disaster kits have been prepared in advance for the animals as well as for the humans. A disaster kit should include enough food and bottled water for the animals and any of their medicines or supplements. Also, the kit should contain photos of the animals in case you are separated from them. And, make sure all your animals have proper identification that will not come off them, again in the event you are separated from them.
Know where to take your animals before disaster strikes. If you have large animals or farmed animals and cannot evacuate them, it is suggested you at least unlock and open barns, gates, and fences so the animals can find their own safety. Leaving animals confined in structures means humans must risk their lives to let them out.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Disaster Information Management Resource Center has information on how to handle disasters where animals are involved.
Identify the organizations in your locale that are able to help with animals in disasters and find out what they can/cannot do. Because, when you think about…all of us, human and nonhuman animals alike, may need rescuing during a disaster.