10 Emergency Preparedness Tips Every Pet Owner Should Know
A decade ago, Meg Lewis moved from Michigan to California. She knew how to protect her pets from snowstorms and icy sidewalks, but she hadn't experienced dealing with fast-spreading wildfires.
Just two months after settling into her home in North Tustin, Calif., she looked out her window and spotted a blaze heading right toward her. Completely unprepared and frightened, she hastily scooped up her cat, grabbed her purse and extinguished embers on her dog’s coat with her hands before escaping with them in her car.
The inferno, dubbed the Lemon Heights Fire, burned most of the trees on her property, and destroyed a dozen homes in the surrounding neighborhood. Her house was miraculously spared.
“I vowed that day that I would never be unprepared for a natural disaster again,” says Lewis, who now has an entire plan in place when it comes to protecting her five Australian Shepherds and a Himalayan cat named Lola during an emergency.
Meg Lewis' Top 10 Tips
If emergency officials order her to evacuate within five minutes, Lewis can now do so calmly and efficiently — with all her pets in tow. Here are her tried-and-true disaster-preparedness tactics:
1. Sign up for an emergency notification system. If it's available in your state, emergency officials will call you if your property falls into a voluntary or mandatory evacuation area.
2. Don’t wait for mandatory evacuation, especially if you have multiple pets. “There are too many of us, and it is far too stressful to wait until the last minute to leave,” says Lewis.
3. Rehearse mock evacuations with your pets. “I tell my dogs, ‘OK, kennel up,’ and they go into their respective crates, so I can put on their vests and clip on their leashes,” says Lewis. “I put them in my truck in the same order — whether it's a ride to agility class or the veterinary clinic. It is a familiar routine for them.”
4. Get your dog a properly sized safety vest that bears your pet's name. “Although I have all Aussies, they are different sizes, and I don’t want to waste time during an emergency evacuation having to size them,” she says. “Their names are embroidered on their vests, which I keep on top of their crates with their leashes at all times.”
5. Crate train your pets ahead of time. This will allow for easy evacuation in the event of an emergency.
6. Give a set of house keys to a trusted neighbor. In case disaster strikes when you're not at home, they can get your pets to safety.
7. Pack a few disaster-preparedness bags. Keep one in your vehicle, another near the front door and one in your bedroom. “If a fire or earthquake blocks access to an area of your house, you'll be prepared with needed supplies,” says Lewis. Items to include in each kit: baby socks to protect paws, a three-day supply of food and water, a pet first-aid kit, a flashlight, radio, batteries, matches and saline. “In case of a fire with heavy smoke, you can pull into a parking lot and wash out soot and debris from their eyes with the saline,” she adds.
8. Store current medications for each of your pets in separate, resealable plastic bags, so you can grab them quickly in an emergency. Clearly mark each bag with the individual pet's name, and include a printout of each critter’s medication schedule.
9. Keep a fire extinguisher in your vehicle, as well as your home.
10. Go beyond just placing "pets inside" stickers on your windows. “During fire season, I leave directions on the front door instructing rescuers how to access the back of my house, where my dogs and cats stay when I am not home,” says Lewis. “And make the area where your pets are located accessible to emergency workers because they are limited on time.”
Lewis hopes that a fire never encroaches on her home again, but unlike a decade ago, she has a game plan in place. “The Lemon Heights Fire was a real wakeup call for me,” she says. “If I’m given five minutes to evacuate, I know what to do, and in what order, to keep my pets safe.”
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