Hurricane Preparedness

By Gail Condrick

This article was first published in the Summer, 2010 edition of Natural Awakenings Pet.

It is hurricane season and seven year old Bonsai Day is ready to go. In his backpack is food, water, medicine, family photos, first aid kit, and important documents to reunite him with family and friends if he is lost. And something unique to him, his leash.

Bonsai is a survivor, a rescued Weimaraner/chow mix who lives with Robert Day, Operations Chief for Sarasota County Emergency Management. For Day and Bonsai being prepared and having a family evacuation plan is a practical and necessary step in being ready to face all of life together, even emergencies.

“I have my backpack in the closet, and so does Bonsai,” says Day. “I know that I will be working so our family preparedness plan includes boarding Bonsai with family members in a safe area away from a flood zone. If a hurricane comes, or any disaster, we pick up our packs. I strap on Bonsai’s, I put on mine, and we are out the door.”

Creating a family evacuation plan for humans and pets in advance of a hurricane is recommended by local and national agencies. The key words are plan, prepare, and be alert for situations that everyone hopes will never occur.

If a hurricane heads here and you are told to evacuate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) literature advises taking your pets, stating that it is unlikely they will survive on their own and may be lost.

The Humane Society of America agrees and recommends that since over 60 percent of Americans have animals, emergency family preparedness means including your pets in the plan. They advise that if it is not safe for you to stay home, it is not safe for your animal family members.

Your choices range from staying home, living with friends and family away from danger zones, boarding your pet with your vet or boarding facility if they will be open during the storm, or bringing your pet with you to a pet friendly hotel or emergency shelter. All of these choices involve research before the storm to determine which option works best for you.

Both Manatee County and Sarasota County have plans to open emergency shelters for humans and animals during a hurricane or other disaster. In 2004 Manatee County was the first area in Florida to introduce pet friendly shelters. “Pets are like family members,” says Don Hermey, Emergency Management Officer in Manatee County. “People want to bring them, so we found a way to make that work for everyone’s safety.” In Manatee County, owners and pets stay together in two designated shelters. “Listen to the media or contact us to learn which shelters are open and where we are accepting dogs, cats, and birds,” states Hermey.

Hermey, who owns both cats and dogs, is out of a flood zone and his preparedness has centered on structurally protecting his home from hurricane force weather and a backup plan to board with family members.

Kris Weiskopf, Director of the Manatee County Animal Shelter, reminds all pet owners that they will be the ones caring for their pets in shelters, and must bring their own food and medications. Proof of vaccinations is required for admittance.

These are the same guidelines for the six pet friendly shelters in Sarasota County. The actual shelters to be activated will be determined if a storm occurs, with dogs and cats near their owners in adjacent/neighboring buildings, but not co-located.

As Day says, “A shelter for pets is not a drop off point; pet owners are required to bring provisions for their animals, and to care for them while in the shelter.” He continues, “We have rules that owners must follow in a County shelter, including proof of vaccinations and crates or carriers to stay in during the emergency. I recommend that you laminate your important documents and clip them to the cage. I have a photo of Bonsai with me and family members in case we are separated, his rabies certificate, proof of vaccinations, medicine information, and human contact information. It’s all together and ready to go anytime.”

Pre-planning also enables you to continue a holistic approach to pet care even in an emergency. Dr. Jaime Gonzalez, a Sarasota veterinarian who specializes in integrating conventional and holistic medicine in his practice, has special recommendations for pet owners. “The three areas to focus on are up to date medical records and vaccination information, food choices, and calming anxiety,” he says. “A core principle of natural pet health is not to vaccinate pets annually unless it is needed. This is checked by pre vaccine blood tests or titer testing which shows levels of immunity. You should be prepared by having all vaccines and titers up to date and copies of your records, then you can discuss with your vet the best options for your situation.”

Emergency Services recommends you have a two week supply of food, water, and medicine for you and your pet. “I recommend integrating dried holistic food into your pet’s diet pre-emergency so that transition will be easier,” states Dr. Gonzalez.

Finally, a hurricane or evacuation may make both you and your pet anxious. Pet friendly ways to calm anxiety can include natural alternatives. Dr. Gonzalez recommends products that you can find at pet stores that specialize in holistic remedies, like Happy Traveler, or specialized comfort vests. Some basics may be on your shelves already. Check for Sleepy Time tea with Valerian and homeopathic drops like Rescue Remedy to help calm your pet. Ask your vet for the correct dosage for the size, weight and age of your pet.

If you prepare, plan, and include all your family members, you can ride out the storms together. And don’t forget to pack those homeopathic solutions for anxiety; you may just want a few drops for yourself.

Copyright © Gail Condrick, 2010

Gail Condrick is a writer and lover of all things earth and ocean living in Sarasota, Florida. Write to Gail