In late January, one of our volunteer teams was called to a house fire in Mastic Beach. Approaching the damaged home on a freezing-cold morning, Red Cross blankets in hand, they saw an all-too-familiar scene: the smell of smoke in the air, busy emergency workers, neighbors looking on with concern. Our team quickly connected with the displaced residents and began working with them to ensure that their immediate needs were taken care of. Of great concern to one of them was that his dog was safe and cared for.
Pets are members of our families, so concern for their well-being is natural. Every year on Long Island, Red Cross teams rush to the assistance of a thousand or more people left homeless by local disasters like fires, floods, building collapses and other emergencies that disrupt lives. But what often gets lost in our statistics is the number of pets that we end up helping, either directly or indirectly.
The American Red Cross encourages people to include their pets in their disaster planning. Being prepared will ensure that you have proper steps in place to keep all your family members safe. Being prepared is empowering, and the Red Cross is an important resource to help in the planning.
First, if you must evacuate your home during a disaster, the best way to protect your pets is to evacuate them, too. If it’s not safe for you to stay behind, it’s not safe to leave them behind, either.
In advance of an evacuation, know which hotels and motels along your route will accept pets in an emergency. Call ahead for reservations if you know you may need to evacuate. Ask if a no-pet policy can be waived in an emergency.
Most Red Cross shelters cannot accept pets because of health and safety concerns, although they do allow service animals. And we work with our partners at the ASPCA and other animal groups to make sure pets are safe.
If a hotel isn’t an option, know which friends, relatives, boarding facilities, animal shelters or veterinarians can care for your animals in a disaster, and prepare a list with their phone numbers. Make sure your pets’ vaccinations are current, and that dogs and cats are wearing collars with securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Many pet shelters require proof of current vaccinations to reduce the spread of disease. Also, consider having your pets “microchipped” by your veterinarian.
It’s also critical to have the right supplies on hand in the event you need to shelter in place, or evacuate. Include supplies for your pets in your emergency kit, or better yet, assemble a special emergency kit for them. Keep these items in an accessible place, and store them in sturdy containers so they can be carried easily. Kits should include:
• Sturdy leashes, harnesses and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that they can’t escape.
• Food, drinking water, bowls, cat litter/pan and a manual can opener if your pet eats canned food.
• Medications and copies of medical records, stored in a waterproof container.
• A first aid kit.
• Current photos of you with your pets in case they get lost. Since many pets look alike, this will help reduce mistaken identity and confusion.
• Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian, in case you must foster or board your pets.
• Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable.
Want this information at your fingertips? We have an app for that! The free Red Cross Pet First Aid app provides instant access to all the information above, and then some. In addition, app users also have access to step-by-step instructions, videos and images for more than 25 common pet first aid and emergency situations, including how to treat wounds, control bleeding, and care for breathing and cardiac emergencies. You can download the app by texting GETPET to 90999, by going to www.redcross.org/apps, or by searching for “American Red Cross” in app stores.
As an animal lover, I encourage you to think about disaster planning that includes all members of your family, two-legged and four-legged.
Neela Lockel is chief executive officer of American Red Cross on Long Island.