By Kelly Johnston

Rescue and relief teams are combing the streets of the Philippines looking to help the tens of thousands of animals affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Illinois rescuers are trying to reunite people with their pets in the wake of this week’s devastating tornadoes. Closer to home, this October marked the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy’s landfall on the eastern U.S. seaboard, killing more than 250 people and uprooting thousands of people and pets. And as we head into the cold winter months, the possibility of debilitating snowstorms and power outages loom over Northern Virginia. While it is always a good idea to review (or create) disaster plans for your household, it is critically important that your disaster plans include contingencies for providing for your pets. The following are some things you can do to make sure your four-legged companions are protected when disaster strikes.

The following is a checklist of what you can do before disaster strikes to make sure your pets are protected:

Make A Pet Emergency Kit

During an emergency, you may be forced to evacuate with little to no warning. If it is not safe for you to stay in your home, it is unsafe to leave your pets behind (including cats). Most pet emergency guidelines suggest having one kit per pet ready to go at a moment’s notice. In this kit there should be enough food, bottled water, medicine, and cleaning supplies to last for up to seven days of potential confinement. Additional items to include: pet first aid kits and instructions; identification papers; recent photos of each pet; sturdy collars, harnesses, and leashes; and copies of your animal’s veterinary records. If possible, you should also have travel crates and/or other systems of confinement packed and ready to go with your emergency kits. Check the expiration dates on your emergency food and medical supplies every 2 months.

Microchip Your Pets

During the chaos of a disaster, in spite of your best efforts, your pets may become separated from you. Scores of lost pets were just one of the tragic outcomes from Hurricane Katrina and more recently, the tornadoes in Oklahoma. Even if you lose your home, a microchip will assist shelter workers as it proves that your pet is owned and will tie your name to your pet, potentially helping with reunification efforts.

Keep Your Pets Collared With ID Tags

Make sure each pet has a collar with an ID tag that includes your cell phone number/s (keep tags current). Even if phone lines are blocked or down, texts to your cell phone may help reunite you with your furry best friend. It is a good idea to list a trusted friend or relative’s cell phone on your pet’s tags as well, in case you are initially unreachable.

Place a Pet Sticker On Your Door/Windows

Be sure to include an “I/we have pets” type of sticker on your front door and/or windows. List the quantity of dogs, cats, and others you have. If you evacuate with your pets, write “evacuated” on your sticker as you leave to assist rescue workers when they begin going door to door searching for survivors. These stickers are often available at no cost from your veterinarian or national animal non-profit groups.

Coordinate With Neighbors on Plans to Save Your Pets

Should disaster strike while you are out, you may not be allowed back into your neighborhood to grab your animals. Having buddies in the neighborhood with your keys increases the odds that someone can grab your pets and their emergency kits. Be sure to keep updated keys and cell phone numbers shared with your animal buddies. Decide on a pre-arranged meet-up location and include that location in your contingency plans.

Keep a Resource List that Includes Surrounding Hotels/Boarding Facilities that Allow Pets

If you have to evacuate, it may prove handy to have a list of regional hotels that allow pets as well as a list of pet boarding facilities. Keep this list as well as maps to these resources with your emergency kit.

One of the scariest parts of disasters is the feeling of having no control over the events around you. While it is impossible to plan for every future danger (manmade or otherwise), planning and preparedness may give you some measure of control and may increase your (and your pets) odds of survival and your level of comfort post disaster. Thinking about possible disasters may provoke anxiety, but hopefully doing all that you can to be prepared will also provide some measure of comfort. So, complete the checklist, take a deep breath, and go play with your pet!

Lastly, this article focuses on the pet aspect of disaster planning. We also strongly encourage you to seek out planning ideas from your city or county, FEMA, Red Cross and others regarding planning for the remainder of your family.

Pet Disaster Resources: