I’ve always been an advocate of emergency preparedness, especially as it involves pets. When household pets are not included in evacuation plans, the result is human and animal misery — as we saw after Hurricane Katrina. If a place isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets. All need to move to safety. The Romero fire in the Corrales bosque last month put my household’s emergency plans into action, and while it demonstrated what works, it also highlighted areas where I need to prepare further. Following are some tips gathered from various animal advocacy groups, Homeland Security, and hard-won experience.
What to do now
Place your pets’ emergency supplies in a sturdy plastic tote, and store near your main evacuation route. For me, that’s in my garage. What I learned in June is that I had forgotten what I had packed, which added stress as I wondered what I might still need. Now I have a laminated list of contents taped to the tote: leashes, bowls, muzzle, paper towels, garbage bags, puppy training pads, vet records and pet photos scanned to a flash drive, treats, disposable litter boxes and litter, and food — at least a three-day supply. Freeze-dried food has a long shelf life, but it’s better to have an emergency bag of your regular food, and to rotate it regularly. I always have two bags of pet food, and keep the unopened one with the tote. That way, the emergency food is always fresh and ready to go.
Your flash drive is a valuable tool; shelters or boarding facilities will require proof of current vaccinations, and photos are useful in case you need to make a “lost” flyer, or show ownership of an animal. You can also use it to scan important personal documents to take with you.
You need to consider how your pets will travel, and how they will be housed. Big dogs might just ride in the car. In my case, I have dogs and cats that must be separated to travel. You should also have a comfortable place for your pets to sleep, as shelters require animals to be securely housed. Collapsible wire crates are a compact solution for emergency housing. Vinyl or mesh pens may also work, if your pet does not chew or become anxious when confined. Crates, cages, or pens should be labeled with your name, cell phone, and email. Even better, include a picture of the animal, vet information, and an outof- state emergency contact. I laminated note cards with this information and attached them to my crates ahead of time. Of course, pets themselves should always wear tags with your contact information, and be sure your microchip provider has updated contact information.
As I learned, it is important to do a test load of your evacuation vehicle. Getting all the pet/human supplies and animals into my car last month turned out to be an exercise in geometry. Better to find a solution now than in a stressful emergency situation where you might be short on time and resources. Once you know how you need to pack the vehicle, store your emergency supplies together in the order they will be loaded. For me, that means wire crates are stored on top of the tote, because the crates will form the bottom layer in the car.
It is also important to know about your options. Many emergency shelters do not allow pets, so it’s best to plan for that possibility. Is there a pet-friendly shelter in your community’s emergency plans? What hotels allow pets? Is there any arrangement for local shelters to house evacuated pets in an emergency? Do you have friends out of the immediate area who would look after your animals? Know which boarding facilities might be able to house your pets.
What to do in an evacuation
If you have planned for both human and animal family members, you will be confident that at least the essentials are taken care of. Next, consider which important items would not be packed ahead of time: prescription medicines family pictures, laptops, identification, and other important documents. Gather those things together ready to go.
Next, pack the vehicle as early as possible, so that if word comes to evacuate, you need only load yourselves to leave. This can happen quickly if your emergency supplies are in one place and arranged for efficient loading. Remember to bring enough bottled water to last humans and pets at least three days. Place your vehicle facing out to allow for quick exit, and know several exit routes out of the community.
If you have cats or other animals that are difficult to find or catch, you may want to load them in their traveling containers ahead of time. For dogs, be sure to attach them to a harness/leash, since even the most docile animal may become frightened and bolt unexpectedly.
Evacuation planning provides peace of mind and reduces the stress of emergency situations, whether it’s a wildfire or other crisis in which you have to act fast, possibly in the middle of the night. Thankfully, we were not forced to evacuate during the Romero fire, but watching the smoke billowing nearby in the bosque, I was glad to be reasonably prepared for a quick and safe getaway with the things and creatures I value most.
Corrales Animal Evacuation Plan
The Corrales Village Council is currently working with animal-welfare groups to refine evacuation plans for pets and livestock.
Architect Terrance Brown says his revised draft of the “Village of Corrales Large Animal Evacuation Plan” is under review by the Village and will be made public after it is approved.
According to Brown, who specializes in disaster assistance, communities are required by law to include in their disaster-preparedness plans to FEMA how they will accommodate household animals in order to qualify for federal disaster funds.
He says Corrales plans to establish an emergency animal field shelter, with a director designated by the Village. The shelter would care for and house animals during an emergency, and help to reunite animals with their owners afterward.
“It is our goal to provide the Village, CHAMP, and large animal owners with a comprehensive, easy-to-understand evacuation plan,” said Brown. Contact him at 792-4415.