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YOUR Pet's Emergency Plan
by: Tina Valant-Siebelts, September 2005

Last week, I was at a neighbor's home. Was introduced to her friend as a fellow pet lover....this lady has a small dog (whom she confessed is her *world*).  With the threat of one more named hurricane this year, she asked me what she should do, in case of an evacuation. She was flabbergasted as I put my glass of wine down and boldly stated, "YOU MUST BRING YOUR DOG WITH YOU. How could you leave your "world" behind?"  Later she came up to me and thanked me for making her realize she must INCLUDE her pet in whatever plans she makes. But, I DID think she was going to slap me, initially!

Later, while reading a pet magazine, I was shocked to see the recommendation of "if you absolutely can not take your pet with you, set it free. Give it a fighting chance".  Turning a horse out into a pasture and setting a domestic pet free are opposite ends of a broad spectrum.

Animal abandonment is a first degree misdemeanor providing for imprisonment and/or fines up to $5,000 for those convicted under Florida statute 828.13. Setting a pet free with an approaching natural disaster is reckless abandonment, and may also be punishable by law. For an exotic/non-native species, the fine can be up to $10,000 per instance. So, giving my three iguanas (now three years old, whom I have had since eggs) "a fighting chance" could cost me $30,000!

Not only is this like signing a death warrant for pets, but in doing so, you would inadvertently endanger countless human lives. Imagine a mass evacuation order with loose dogs, cats, and livestock inhibiting traffic flow.

The North American Pet Owners Alliance was the main control center for pets and companion animals rescued in South Florida after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Captain Ron Fach of the Alliance shared valuable information, including safety precautions for pets. "There are several situations to consider, so only one rule does not fit all. In Florida we have evacuation and  flood zones. When a hurricane watch is issued, you MUST evacuate these areas. There is also a flood level to consider. You may not be in a flood zone but your home might be below flood level. You could also be in trouble, far inland with a lot of rainfall", he stated. Unless you are east of the intracoastal--or below sea level----the possibility of flooding is nothing like what we saw on the Gulf Coast.  So, what can you do?    Plan NOW & Review, Annually

1) Have an evacuation plan--which INCLUDES taking your pets along. You would not leave a child or an elderly person behind, either.  Make sure pets are microchipped, registered and/ or tattooed, have collars & ID tags ON, and you have ample supplies (food, water, medicine). Make copies of their medical records, and place them in Ziploc bags. 

2) Ask a relative or friend outside of the evacuation area to keep them for you. Get the pet there as soon as the hurricane watch is issued--not later, under the warning.

3) Make sure where you are evacuating to will accept your pet(s). If not----keep looking!

4) This should NEVER be an option. It is a very last resort. FORGET thinking that your pet will be safe/happy when/if you return. If that were true - why are YOU leaving? By doing this,  your pet only has a one in four chance of survival. If you can live with yourself, leave a permanent sign on your front door or wall, that there are pets inside (include the number and species).

"Many pets were lost forever when authorities checking for Hurricane Andrew's survivors, opened doors and pets escaped", Captain Fach informed.  Only if you absolutely, positively have no other option-----secure the collared, ID'd pet, with food and water IN YOUR OWN HOME (never a mobile home)---where he/she feels safe. Use your "safe room" away from doors and windows. They can crawl under a bed or into a closet, surrounded by familiar smells.

Instead of waiting for the next tropical depression/hurricane season to start brewing, empower yourself and your pets with these suggestions:

Action Items for All Animal Lovers to do NOW!!!

a) Contact your local council members, school board (a lot of shelters are located within schools) and demand they get with the program, and open (at least SOME) shelters to those of us with pets!!!

b) Contact your Congressperson and strongly encourage their support. The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS Act, H.R. 3858), is currently in Congress. This bill will protect pets in federal evacuation plans, and urge officials to save currently stranded pets. Contact them with your thoughts! Update 6/06: GREAT NEWS! this bill has passed!

c) Sign this petition online, if you haven't done so, already:

d) Sit down and have a serious discussion with your family. What would you do? Where would you go? Divide the responsibilities. Hold a drill as if a category four or five storm is headed your way.  Mother Nature is unpredictable. Hurricanes wobble---plan accordingly to save yourself and every family member---including the pets!

I have always said, "This rat sinks with the ship". Since Katrina, we started researching RVs and small motor homes, so we can safely retreat with each and every life, from the dogs and cats, to the reptiles, birds and bettafish.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "A nation can be judged by how it treats its animals".   Later, Martin Luther King stated, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy".  An approaching natural disaster qualifies. Let us show our compassion---especially in troubled times----to the finned, furred, scaly and feathered ones we so willingly share our homes and lives with.

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