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Hurricane Evacuation Planning for Your Pets

How many of us will ever forget watching the news last year and seeing pets ripped from the arms of their loving owners to be left behind in New Orleans during evacuations for Hurricane Katrina? It is a scene that was showcased on national news broadcasts and print media. If nothing else, Hurricane Katrina brought to light that pets are parts of people's families, and need to be evacuated as well. What happened in New Orleans does not have to happen in our area.

As we approach the mark of hurricane season, take some time now to prepare for your pets' evacuation. I know I learned my lessons first hand during the Hurricane Floyd evacuation in 1999, but realized there was even more that could be done after speaking with those who worked the animal rescue efforts post-Katrina.

The primary comment I heard from these rescuers was "if only the pet could be identified." Many pets who may have had identification lost their collars and thus became even more separated from their families. There is a simple solution: get a microchip. A microchip is a simple piece of technology that will go a long way to reunite you with your pet. About the size of a grain of rice, the chip is implanted under the pet's skin between the shoulder blades. It takes less than a minute to inject, much like a shot. Each chip has a serial number. The owner registers the number with the chip manufacturer's database to include the pet's basic description and the owner's contact information. When hurricane season is approaching, take the time to update your contact information with the number of someone out of area who may be reached if you and your pet become separated during an evacuation. Remember, if all the phone lines are down and your emergency contact is your next door neighbor who has also evacuated, it will make reuniting your pet with you that much more difficult.

While you have the time now, prepare an evacuation kit for your pets. Get a backpack or small to medium size duffel bag and keep it packed for them. Contents should include a few favorite toys (avoid anything that squeaks or makes loud noise as a courtesy to others), a favorite blanket or towel to sleep on, flea and heartworm preventative, first aid kit, copies of medical records, current medications, and recent photo of your pet. Be sure your pet has a collar with id tag (two phone numbers with one being a cell phone or number that may be reached in case of emergency) and current rabies tag (Georgia state law mandates all pets have current proof of rabies for travel anywhere in the state). You should also plan to have enough food and water for your pet for one week minimum. For dogs, include an extra leash along with their harness, leader, choke collar and/or muzzle. You must be able to maintain control of your dog during all travel and any subsequent time at a shelter. For cats, include litter box and litter as well as trash bags for refuse.

While there is federal legislation being considered to mandate states to provide evacuation options and sheltering for pets, make alternate plans now in case they are not available when the time comes. Contact kennels outside of the evacuation area, friends/relatives, or a pet-friendly hotel now to give yourself some options. Remember that as soon as a watch is issued, you should follow up to know where you may go. As with Hurricane Floyd, many options were already filled by those who had evacuated from Florida or other coastal Georgia areas. I remember the stories of those who had to travel for 18 hours before finding a hotel for the night in Tennessee or Alabama. While many pets may enjoy riding with you to the store or going for a two hour ride out of town, many will become irritated at having to be confined to a car going nowhere for 18 hours.

If you have any concerns about traveling with your pet, consult your veterinarian. Together, you can best plan for the safety and comfort of your pet. Consider having a crate in your car to contain your pet throughout the evacuation travel. The stress can cause a pet to bolt when a door is opened, sending you and your family on a chase. You should also plan to have a crate or carrier for your pet to stay in when you reach your final destination if you do not plan to have them boarded at a kennel.

A hurricane evacuation is a very hectic and often stressful process. By making evacuation plans for your pet before a hurricane watch is issued, you can save time when it counts the most.

*Article by Coastal Pet Rescue president and founder Lisa Scarbrough, April 2006.