A recent post on the New York Times’ interesting “Well” blog focused on emergency preparedness for pets. In “Disaster Planning For Pets,” Tara Parker-Pope describes her own lack of readiness when a flood forced her — along with her dogs and cats — from their New Jersey home.
When my neighborhood was evacuated because of Delaware River flooding a few years ago, I had less than 24 hours to prepare. I packed a suitcase and grabbed important documents — but then I suddenly realized that I didn’t have a plan for my pets.
Fortunately, a local groomer offered to take in my dogs, but I couldn’t find a refuge for my cats. I was staying with friends who had severe cat allergies, so taking them with me wasn’t an option. Instead, I filled up a few litter boxes and set out several bowls of water and food.
And then I had to leave…
Based on her own experience, Parker-Pope urges other pet owners to prepare, including going to Ready.Gov, the Federal Emergency Management Administration website and:
In addition to gathering important documents like passports and birth certificates, disaster preparedness also means collecting veterinary records. One of the reasons I couldn’t board my cats during my flooding crisis was that I had misplaced my cats’ vaccination information, and no boarding facility would take them without it.
I would add one other thing to this article that pet owners should know and do — find out whether the local emergency shelter will accept pets. As FEMA points out:
Identifying shelter. For public health reasons, many emergency shelters cannot accept pets. Find out which motels and hotels in the area you plan to evacuate to allow pets — well in advance of needing them. There are also a number of guides that list hotels/motels that permit pets and could serve as a starting point. Include your local animal shelter’s number in your list of emergency numbers — they might be able to provide information concerning pets during a disaster.
After Hurricane Katrina, emergency managers realized that in most disaster situations pet owners were not going to leave their pets no matter what the authorities say. So, a number of local emergency management offices, including here in New York City, integrated pet care into their evacuation shelters. I think it was a smart move and an example of government listening to the public on disaster response. (And, pet owners are among the most prepared and politically active demographic on emergency readiness in the population.)
However, the City officials have not publicized this availability, because it would rather have New Yorkers make advance evacuation plans for their pets. I understand the ambivalence, but I believe that not being completely upfront on that policy can send confusing messages to the public and can get in the way of full, accurate planning.