This has been a devastating hurricane season.
Amid the destruction, thousands of animals have been displaced, injured and killed.
The ASPCA and ABC News Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee want to help decrease the number of animals affected by hurricanes, especially since the season still isn’t over. To protect pets, both are offering expert advice on what owners need to know before a hurricane hits.
“As an animal lover and someone who knows firsthand the joy a pet can bring to your life, I have seen how important it is to get pets into disaster preparedness plans and encourage pet owners to take the life-saving steps that will keep their pets safe in an emergency,” Zee said. “Pets are members of our families, and I’m proud to collaborate with the ASPCA on an issue that I’m passionate about.”
To help you form your disaster preparedness plan, PEOPLE asked Zee and ASPCA experts what pet owners need to know to keep their furry friends safe from natural disasters.
1. What should pet owners always have on hand for pet emergency prep?
First step: if your family has an emergency plan, include your pet in it! Create a portable evacuation kit with essential pet supplies in case you need to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Must-have items for pets include: medical records and any prescription medication; pet food and bottled water; cleaning supplies; leashes and collars; and comfort items such as toys or treats.
Have recent photos of your pets in case they are separated and you need to make “lost” posters or identify your pet at an emergency boarding facility. By downloading the ASPCA’s free pet safety app, pet owners can store photos of their pet and medical records needed for boarding pets at emergency shelters. The app also includes a disaster preparedness checklist and other helpful resources for pet owners during an emergency.
2. What other plans should you make ahead of time in case of a natural disaster?
Before disaster strikes, the ASPCA recommends that pet owners make sure all pets are wearing ID tags with up-to-date contact information and that all pets are microchipped as a more permanent form of identification, should collars or tags become lost.
3. What are some common misconceptions people have about pets and natural disasters?
One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to pets and natural disasters is that if a pet owner has to evacuate, his pets will be safe at home. This is not true. Following a disaster, evacuees may not be able to return home for several days, or even weeks. Pet owners should never leave their pets behind and take their pets with them if they need to evacuate.
4. What do you recommend to those who have to evacuate with their pets?
Unfortunately, not all emergency shelters or hotels are pet-friendly during disasters, so pet owners should identify pet-friendly hotels, designate a caregiver in advance, or contact their local animal shelter or emergency management office so they know what their options are. States are required by law to include pets in existing guidelines for disaster planning, so pet owners can contact their local emergency management office to identify a pet-friendly emergency shelter, or look for pet-friendly hotels outside of the evacuation zones.
As a back-up, it’s always a good idea to identify a temporary caregiver for pets — such as a friend or family member — who lives outside of the evacuation zones and can care for pets if owners are unable to secure pet-friendly sheltering.
5. What problems may pet owners face when they are trying to evacuate with a pet?
The biggest challenges pet owners face when evacuating with their pets during disaster situations is how to transport the pets and where to bring them. This is why it is so important to prepare for disaster in advance by having essential supplies on hand, researching pet-friendly boarding options and practicing for a potential evacuation.
6. What should you practice with your pet ahead of a natural disaster?
ASPCA experts recommend preparing your pet for an evacuation in advance. Because disaster situations are stressful, animals may become skittish, which increases the likelihood they will escape and get lost.
To prepare your pet for a potential evacuation, get him comfortable with a travel carrier in advance:
- Prepare your pets by gradually acclimating them to their crates. First, place their food inside an open crate, and eventually have them eat their meals in the crate with the door shut.
- Try carrying your pets around the house in the crate or taking a short drive.
- You can help your pets develop a positive association with the crate by providing treats and playtime at the conclusion of crate time.
7. How do pets react to hurricanes?
While every pet will react differently, many will try to escape, hide far away from people or seek reassurance from their owners.
Pets are much more likely to try and make an escape during stressful situations, including disaster situations like hurricanes and tornadoes. This is why it is so important for pet owners to ensure they have pet carriers to safely transport their pets and that animals are wearing collars with ID tags in case they do become separated.
8. What risks are there to pets during a hurricane?
As with humans, in severe flooding situations such as that caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, pets can be at risk of drowning due to high water levels or being hit by a piece of debris if left outside during high winds.
Also, floodwaters are often very contaminated by chemicals, sewage, gasoline and other substances that can harm animals externally or by being ingested. Exposure to a wet environment for long periods of time (hours to days) can cause damage to and inflammation of the skin, allowing for bacterial and fungal pathogens to invade and cause severe dermatitis. There is also an additional risk of potential exposure to venomous snakes and other creatures also seeking refuge from the floodwaters