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by Diana Guerrero 
Copyright© 1996 By Diana Guerrero 



Animal Disaster Preparedness (ADP); What is it and do we really need to be concerned about it? Imagine these few scenes:

Early morning, rains begin to cause the river to rise. Soon the news is that you have to prepare to evacuate, then it is confirmed that you have to leave. Are you ready in 20 minutes? How about your pets? You leave food and water out, animals and valuables upstairs, and guess what, you loose everything: Including your pets whose futile cries rendered them horse. They all died by drowning, crying out in vain for human help.

You awaken to massive movement like the kids jumping on your bed or someone playing a bad joke on you. Around you your home creaks and collapses. You barely escape with your family. Once things settle down where are your pets? The cat, untagged and unmarked has bolted through the broken window, your fence has fallen down around the house and your dog is gone. Your children are frantic about their pets, what do you tell them? Fortunately at dusk several days later you find your cat, you can't catch her and don't have anywhere to put her if you did, at least you can feed her and the kids are reassured. No luck at the local shelters looking for your dog. There is nothing to make signs with and no photos to help with locating him. The roads are so bad it is not an easy trip to check daily or even get near the other surrounding area shelters; the phones are out so you can't call. What could you have done?

A fire that has been burning out of control suddenly becomes a threat to your home with a wind change. Your animals cannot all be put into your vehicle, some aren't even trained to cooperate, they begin to panic with the smoke. How do you get them out NOW?!

These are just some of the real scenarios that have been experienced in some of the disasters that have hit our nation over the past few years. The cases are real and more numerous in scope and the reality is worse.

"How many people are prepared so that IF WE HAD A DISASTER RIGHT NOW COULD YOU SURVIVE WHERE YOU ARE? DO YOU HAVE A KIT IN YOUR VEHICLE?" Even groups with rescue personnel never had more than a few in the audience who were ready. This is disconcerting if you are going to rely on them for help!

It is unreasonable to prepare for your animals if you are not prepared for yourself and your family. Most people are in denial; "It won't happen again...," or "My animals are not my priority, my family is...," Most of these comments were in response to the question "Do you have a disaster kit for your pets?" Most people when pressed did not have kits in their cars for their families and some had young infants with them!

Disaster preparedness is a pain. Everytime I make sure my fuel tank is full or I try to work in my suitcase around my disaster kits for myself and my animals I utter a few choice words, but I am ready. You and your pets should be too. Animal Disaster Preparedness (ADP) has historically been and overlooked part of Disaster Preparedness Programs. Only recently are there are numerous organizations dealing with this issue and they try to work in conjunction with each other. These efforts are great but still at the infancy level or development, some areas still do not consider this issue an important one to take proactive action on.

ADP is a critical part of total disaster planning. In the past, people have refused to abandon their animals despite the threat to their own well being, while others have just let their animals loose hoping that they will survive and that perhaps they can recover them later, and some animals escape, never to be seen again. Before, during, and after disasters there are unique problems posed by our companion animals. To deal with them you have to start at the beginning.

It is important to ask a few key questions like; What kind of disasters affect your area? How can you prepare for them? Do you have any warning before them? Can you develop an evacuation plan? Who are the agencies that will be involved in the event of a disaster?

Most area have more than one type of disaster. The Big Bear Valley in California had major concerns that included: Wildfire, earthquakes, excessive snowload, and rockslides. In the past several years natural disasters have been at the forefront of the news. Natural disasters include, but are not limited to: Snow storms and avalanches, hurricanes, lightening strikes, tornados, earthquakes, tidal waves, floods, mud slides, fires, and volcanic eruptions, to mention a few. Other types of disasters such as oil, fuel, chemical or sewage spills, can be equally devastating.

The next step is to determine what types of actions you'll need to take to adapt to the emergency. You'll want to start with emergency contacts. These contacts are necessary for your animals and will be pet professionals or people who are familiar with your animals. They will be various agencies or groups you deal with on a regular basis. Others will be those who will be needed in an emergency. Advance preparation in developing these contacts will pay off when you are faced with a serious situation. Here are some examples to use in developing your own list. Add or delete according to your specific needs:


    Petsitters Kennels Veterinarians
    Local Shelters (50 mile radius)
    Boarding Facilities/Shelters (100 mile radius)
    Neighbors (2 or more. Do a neighborhood team plan!)
    Friend or person who knows your animals well.
    Out of state contact. (All those on your list need this number too.)
    List of pet & feed stores.
    List of groomers.
    List of animal behavior consultants or trainers.
    Local animal rescue groups.
    Other non-profit animal rescue groups.
This is important. Find out what groups there are and who is in charge. Ask yourself if you are ready. ARE YOU REALLY READY? Be honest. Could you evacuate now without notice and have all you need? How about your animals? How long would it take to evacuate them? If your helpers have animals how do you decide who to evacuate first?

Check with the non-profit humane societies in your area to see if they have their own plan and an animal evacuation group. If they do not and would like help in developing one see the resource listing in the back. Other agencies to check with include Animal Control, City Hall, the local chapter of the American Red Cross, the Fire Department or a law enforcement agency such as the Sheriff. If you have a Search and Rescue Team in the area they would probably know about a plan, and don't forget to ask the librarian! You'll often find human planning but it is pretty rare to find this type of planning for animals.

If you are in an isolated area, have numerous animals, are in a city, or have a pet service or animal related business then the answer is YES! Plan for times when you are not in, when you are at capacity, for different weather conditions (remember the power will be off), and have several escape routes and time frames for your clients/friends to operate on. These are not happy topics to think about but it is better to be prepared than to face the consequences. Remember, even with the best planning you cannot expect it to all go well or according to plans. A good rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected.


Continued in Part 2



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