According to the 2013/2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, there are 83.3 million owned dogs in the United States and 95.6 million owned cats. That is 178.9 million animals that need shelter, food, and medicine. That number does not even include other varieties of animals, such as rodents, reptiles, birds, and livestock, all of which will have the same needs, some of them even more specialized.
Responsible pet ownership is very important, and reaches far beyond feeding Fido and letting him outside to relieve himself. Pets need routine veterinary care and medications such as heart worm preventative. Dogs sometimes suffer from arthritis and joint pain in addition to having dental issues. Cats are plagued by urinary tract and upper respiratory infections. These are issues that will not resolve on their own and will need medical intervention, but what if there is no one to intervene? What if you're stuck in a situation where you cannot get to vet care?
Many natural disasters strike with little warning, but modern science and technology are making progress that aids the American public in knowing when danger could be coming. Hurricane tracking has vastly improved and tornado warnings have been able to pinpoint windows in time when danger is present. Government and media outlets diligently report on storm outbreaks in an effort to warn people in time to take cover. The danger is still very much present, but the information used to generate a warning is getting better and more accurate.
Regardless of that information, however, it is important to have a general awareness of what is worst case scenario in your neck of the woods. For example, if you live on the Gulf of Mexico, you need to prepare for hurricanes. If you live in Middle America, having a tornado shelter is a good idea. Earthquakes are synonymous with California. There are also avalanches, volcanic eruptions, mudslides, and much more to consider, but the bottom line is that while these events cannot be stopped, you can become aware of what might affect you and make plans to either get out of the way or ride it out.
Preparedness is especially important for pets. As a resident of a community stricken by Hurricane Katrina, I have seen a lot of animals die at the hands of owners who simply did not think things through. Leaving your dog tied to the porch with an extra bowl of food is not going to get him through a hurricane. It is going to get him killed.
When you pack your bags, you should pack your animals' bags right along with them. Public shelters are not likely to allow pets, so plan in advance to go somewhere that will in the event you choose to evacuate. If you choose to stay, keep your animal in a safe location, preferably close to you as this will help alleviate fear. Also, keep in mind that the unexpected could strike at any time; next to your BOB should be a BOB for your animals as well. Things you might want to keep in that BOB:
1. Pet first-aid kit (antiseptic, bandages, gauze, baby aspirin, Benadryl, hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting should your pet get into something toxic during a natural or other type of disaster, etc.)
2. A 7-10 day supply of water and canned and/or dry food, as well as bowls for food and water.
3. Litter or shredded paper as well as a backup litter box such as a coke flat or roasting pan.
4. Extra collars, harnesses, and leashed with current ID tags.
5. Copies of medical documents in a waterproof container along with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires.
6. A sturdy crate or carrier for each pet, complete with bed, blanket, and familiar toy for comfort.
7. Extra blanket for scooping up a fearful pet or should other blankets/bedding become soiled.
8. Recent photos of your pets for identification in case you are separated
9. Extra toys for comfort and entertainment.
10. Treats with busying capabilities such as Kongs or mice on a string.
Remember that even the best laid plans can go awry, but it is essential to at least have a plan. Keep in mind that food, water, and medications need to be rotated so they do not spoil or expire. Above all else, remember to stay calm as your animals will look to you for reassurance and having them close by will likely have the same effect on you.
Stay safe, dry, and safe travels to you and your pets.