By: Stella Katsipoutis
One night, I was sitting at my kitchen table, quietly painting my nails while my two dogs slept by my feet. Seemingly out of nowhere, the patio door began to violently shake behind me. Like a security system that had just been triggered, my pups immediately got up on their feet and started barking in alarm. I ran over to the door and opened the curtain only to see my outdoor furniture being swept across my backyard by a sudden and unexpectedly powerful wind. We were in the midst of a microburst—what can be compared to an inside-out tornado. I immediately grabbed my terrified doggies and secured them in their crates in an inside room until the incident passed. That’s the moment I realized that, as someone who lives in Florida—where hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, microbursts and other crazy acts of nature abound—I need to have a safety plan in place not only for myself, but for my beloved fur babies as well.
As much as we don’t want to think such a scary thought, the truth is that a devastating storm can strike at any time, especially when hurricane season rolls in. That’s why it’s important to have a plan of action locked down for your whole family—and that includes your pets. Hurricanes are just as scary and dangerous for animals as they are for humans, and it’s up to us to keep our four-legged friends safe. So while you’re creating an emergency plan to keep your loved ones and your financial information secure during a hurricane, remember these tips for protecting your pet as well.
If your pet has a microchip, don’t forget to register it under your name. That will make it much easier for your pet to be returned directly to you if he’s lost in the storm and his chip is scanned. What’s even easier: Making sure your pet has an updated, easy-to-read tag attached to his collar. The tag should include your pet’s name and microchip number, as well as your name and cell phone number so that you can be quickly contacted when your pet is found. It’s also a good idea to have a current photo of you with your pet on hand, just in case you need help finding him after the storm.
Both of my dogs are microchipped, but I was definitely guilty of slacking in the ID tag department. At the time of the storm, my one dog was wearing a tag that had an old phone number on it, and the other wasn’t wearing a collar at all. (She’s the wild child who has chewed off every collar I’ve bought for her since she was a puppy.) Needless to say, that all changed after that windy night.
While I might have fallen behind the curve on my dog’s IDs, I am definitely the type of dog mom who way over-packs her doggy diaper bag. Even if we’re just going for a walk on the beach, I bring enough food, water and poop bags to last us through the apocalypse. (Not really; but you get my point.) While you don’t have to go overboard like me every single day, you should make sure that you prepare an adequate emergency kit for your pet before a hurricane, just as you would for the rest of your family. Stash it with their survival essentials, such as:
Stow all of these items in an easy-to-access location in your home before the storm hits, and make sure they are packed in a portable bag in case you have to hit the road on short notice.
As soon as you hear that a big storm is looming, immediately bring your pet indoors. Please do not—under any circumstances—keep your animal tethered outside. As for the inside of your house, place any emergency items that could harm your pet if ingested—such as batteries and other toxic items—out of his reach. Heaven knows my dogs will eat anything they find lying on the floor. Whether it’s a bread crumb or a phone charger—they don’t discriminate.
Once your fur kid is safe indoors, identify a room or space in your home where you, your family members and your pet can take shelter in the event that your home is suddenly hit by severe weather. I picked my laundry room, which has no windows, sits smack dab in the middle of my house and can comfortably fit me, my husband and our dogs.
Do your best to block off any small, hard-to-reach spaces around the house where your pet might try to hide. I know I wouldn’t want to waste precious time trying to drag out my doggos from under the bed during an emergency situation. Better yet, keep your furry pal on a leash or inside a comfortable crate within the designated safe room, and keep his emergency kit in there as well. That way, everything is ready should you need to quickly grab your pet and go.
No matter what happens, keep your cool. Your pet is attuned to your emotions and can sense it when you’re panicking—and so can your family. Keeping your composure will help maintain a calm atmosphere in the home, which in turn will make everyone feel safe and help you respond to surprise situations more effectively.
It’s not always guaranteed that you’ll be home when a hurricane is on the way. There’s always a chance that you could be stuck at work or traveling in another city, unable to get home to your pet in time. For that reason, it’s best to set up a plan with your extended family, friends or neighbors to make sure your pet is looked after if you can’t get to them. Since I work about an hour away from home and often go on weekend trips, I’ve entrusted a close neighbor-friend with a spare key to my house. That gives me peace of mind knowing she can have access to my doggies when I can’t make it home.
Just remember to share and practice your emergency plans in advance with your family and friends so that everyone knows exactly what needs to be done in any scenario. This will help prevent mass panic when the going gets tough. If no one can come to your pet’s aid while you’re away, placing a rescue alert sticker on your front door or window will also help notify police officers and firefighters that a pet is inside your home. (You can order one from the ASPCA for free. I ordered mine while writing this blog post!)
Since I already lived through the devastation of Hurricane Sandy back in my hometown of New York City, I am a huge believer in this: If you are home and your area is being evacuated, then evacuate—and do it early. Staying home could put you, your family and your pet in danger. Not to mention that it could put the lives of others at risk in the event that you need to be rescued. Many people in my neighborhood who chose not to evacuate during Sandy—despite clear warnings from local officials—learned this the hard way when they, their family members and their pets were stranded. I didn’t have my dogs when Sandy struck; but I know that if I did, there’s no way that I would have left them behind when I decided to evacuate before the storm.
If you choose to leave, make sure you allow enough space in your car to accommodate your pet and its necessities so he isn’t left to fend for himself. Have a travel carrier prepared ahead of time: Line it with a cozy blanket, and label it with your contact information and a description of your pet. If your pet is like mine, then he will most likely be frightened by all of the commotion—especially if you are rushing to leave the area at the last minute. Evacuating early will help keep everyone calm and ensure that all family members and pets are accounted for.
I was fortunate enough to be able to find shelter in my brother’s home during Hurricane Sandy, but not everyone has such luck. Many people have to seek out hotels or emergency shelters—most of which do not accept pets. Do yourself and your pet a favor by getting familiar with your evacuation route before a hurricane rears its head. Do your research to find out which places along your route are pet-friendly. Many facilities that welcome pets also require that you show proof of your pet’s vaccinations, so keep him up to date on his shots throughout the year, and keep his medical records handy if you’re headed to a shelter.
With just a little bit of forethought, you can ensure that each member of your home—including the four-legged ones—remains safe during a storm. Do you have other pet safety procedures you like to follow? Share them with us in the comments below! And don’t forget to check out even more hurricane preparedness tips on our blog.
The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. VyStar Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.