The arrival of Hurricane Alex and Tropical Storm Bonnie is just the beginning of what experts have predicted will be one of the most active hurricane seasons on record. Up to 23 named tropical storms and hurricanes are predicted, and emergency planners are concerned that a storm surge could carry oil from the Gulf spill inland. We can't control the weather, but we can help our loved ones weather this year's hurricane season safely by making emergency plans now to protect all the members of our families, including our animals.
As the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti and the tragic Gulf oil spill have shown, animals aren't any better equipped to survive disasters than humans are. Cats and dogs can't phone for help, row a boat or open a can of food, and emergency shelters for humans often refuse to accept animals. People who leave their animals behind during an evacuation often learn the hard way that even if their homes haven't been damaged, downed power lines or impassable roads may prevent them from returning home for weeks, leaving their animals stranded without food or water.
That's why it's so crucial to have an evacuation plan in place for our animal companions long before a disaster strikes. Start by mapping out possible evacuation routes and scouting out places to stay with your animal companions. Ask family members and friends if they would be willing to accommodate you and your animals for a few days, and also call around to several hotel chains--many lift their no-animals policies during emergencies. Campgrounds are another animal-friendly lodging possibility. Write down the addresses and phone numbers of these places or program them into your phone or GPS.
If all else fails, your animals are better off spending a few nights with you in your car than being left behind. However, use caution and never leave animals unattended in a parked vehicle. Even on a mild day, cars heat up quickly, and animals can suffer and die from heatstroke within minutes.
Having an emergency kit ready for each of your animals will also help ensure that you can evacuate at a moment's notice. The kit should include all of your animals' necessities, such as leashes, bowls, towels, blankets, litter pans, litter and at least a week's supply of food and medications. Some facilities will only accept animals who are current on their vaccinations, so schedule an appointment now to have your animals immunized, if they aren't already, and keep copies of their vaccination records in the kit. Make sure that your animals are wearing collars with identification tags. Having your animals microchipped offers additional protection, since collars can fall off and tags can become unreadable.
Leaving animals behind is the last resort, but you can help increase their odds of survival by leaving them indoors with access to upper floors. Tying up animals or caging them is a virtual death sentence because they won't be able to escape rising floodwaters. Provide at least a 10-day supply of dry food and fill multiple sinks, bowls, pans and plastic containers with water. Put signs on windows and doors indicating how many and what kind of animals are inside as rescue workers may be able to save them.
Whether you live in a hurricane zone, near a fault line, in Tornado Alley or somewhere in between, disasters can strike anytime and anywhere. Please prepare now so that your animal companions can weather any storm.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a research specialist for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.HelpingAnimals.com.