Four paws and big brown eyes took the lead during the latest in National Preparedness Month's brown bag lunch series at the County Complex in Barnstable Village. Brodie, a striking Chesapeake Bay retriever, supported his human partner Holly Rodgers to share the essentials of getting your pet ready for an emergency.
Rodgers (the human member of the team) directs the volunteer organization Cape Cod Disaster Animal Rescue Team (DART). The group coordinates with regional emergency organizations and handles setting up evacuation areas for pets in five of the Cape's six regional evacuation shelters.
It can happen here
Storms, fires, and other disasters happen and they can happen here and now. Images from the recent Hurricane Isaac on the Gulf coast provide a stark reminder that evacuees aren't just human. In just one day during the storm, the National Humane Society reported it transported 133 dogs and 67 cats out of the area to emergency shelter.
We live with hurricane season, blizzards, high fire risk, and a myriad of other potential disasters every day. It may not have happened here this year yet, but if it does, no one wants their pet to have a starring role in "dog clings desperately to floating branch" news photos.
As Rodgers told the group during her presentation, "Our animals can't prepare for themselves. We need to do it for them."
The Go Kit: Cats
Preparation takes just a few minutes of organization. DART calls the result a "Go Kit", a collection of packed essentials for your pet that you can keep in the garage or near the pet food and grab it to go if you need to evacuate your home.
For cats, this includes you cat's carrier, with a copy of his or her vaccination, vet, and address information and a photo of kitty attached to the carrier. Inside, stash a bag with a small cardboard box and a baggie with a few scoops of kitty litter- just enough to get kitty through a few days. Add in another baggie with three days worth of food, and a few cans of kitty's best treat, along with a food and water bowl. As a final touch, drop in three packages or bottles of water.
The Go Kit: Dogs
For dogs, follow a similar process. Gather together vaccination records and photo, a non-retractable lead, a toy or comfort object, a treat or two, and three days of food and water and a food and water bowl. A reflective vest or collar makes another good addition to the kit.
Rodgers also suggests adding some dry rice that you can cook up and feed Fido as an alternative in case your dog develops a bit intestinal distress, as can happen to stressed pups.
Ensure your dog has a collar and tag or is otherwise marked by name, as well. If you need to evacuate, you can easily grab Fido's crate or carrier and his Go Kit, and he'll have what he needs to survive for several days.
If you end up in an emergency shelter, the vaccination sheet becomes invaluable. As anyone who has ever boarded a pet knows, pets kept in proximity require certification of vaccination, and even in an emergency the rules hold.
Undocumented dogs and cats typically end up in a segregated section of an evacuation shelter; having documentation attached for your pet make his, and your, life easier. Your vet can print or email you an update sheet at your request, but the time to get it is now ... not in the middle of a hurricane!
Pets on Cape have a place
In many regions, evacuation shelters have no provision for companion animals, but the Cape is different. Since DART launched in 2008, it has created a network of volunteers who, in coordination with regional emergency response, can create animal-friendly areas of the region's evaluation centers.
In fact, five of the Cape's six shelters have the capacity to take in animals along with their humans; only Barnstable lacks this ability. The actual number of animal areas open depends upon volunteer response in any given emergency.
The regional shelters also use an approach called "co-sheltering" which means you continue to take care of your pet yourself. Even though your pet stays in the animal section, you still feed and visit and take care of him or her -- and you keep custody of your furry friend.
Common sense equals good sense
Rodgers points out that preparedness really falls firmly into the category of common sense.
"Do you have a personal plan for your pets and your family if you had to leave your home on short notice?" she asked the group.
"What do you need to take? Where would you go?"
Upcoming Events in National Preparedness Month:
For more info on pet preparedness or to become a pet emergency volunteer: Cape Cod Disaster Animal Response Team (DART), 508-737-9467