The Southern California fires that displaced at least 500,000 residents and burned more than 1,000 homes are still within recent memory. Unfortunately, this will certainly not be the last time that homeowners will have to deal with the trauma of evacuation. SPCA International, recognizing that many pet owners need guidelines for dealing with such emergencies, recommends these disaster evacuation procedures for all animal guardians.
Have a plan. Long before a disaster, every pet parent and animal guardian should have an evacuation plan—for themselves and their pets. Talk to family and friends who can provide for your animals if you are in the path of danger. [Editor’s note: watch the “Save Your Pet” video in this article.]
Look for personal solutions. Use the public services as a last resort. During a disaster, animal shelters and other public services can quickly become overwhelmed with thousands of animals. If at all possible, do your part to alleviate that pressure by finding personal solutions.
Locate pet-friendly lodging in or around your area. Invest the time now to find pet-friendly motels and hotels. Sometimes, these facilities waive their no-pet policy for one or two smaller animals in times of disaster (although there is no guarantee). AAA publishes a book of all pet-friendly lodgings in the U.S.
Look for animal day-care facilities in the area. The Santa Ana winds are unpredictable, and if you are in a potential path of danger, SPCA recommends you do not leave your animal home alone for extended periods. If fire threatens your home while you are away, your animals will have no means of escape. Law enforcement will not allow residents past roadblocks to retrieve a pet that was left behind. Leave your animal at a day-care facility, kennel, or in the company of a person you trust.
Know what your local animal shelter is doing. In times of crisis and evacuation, follow the lead of the local animal organizations. Check with your local shelter to get their recommendations, or listen to your local news for information on pet-friendly evacuation facilities.
Network with family and friends. Friends and family are reliable resources that can give your animals a safe and familiar place to stay until they can return home. Having someone who is ready to provide for them can save you a lot of time and worry.
With no warning and no other option, let the animal go free. If fire is rapidly approaching your home and there is no time to evacuate safely, release your animals rather than leaving them confined. This will allow them to escape. Make sure the animal is wearing a collar and tag with a cellular telephone number—not the home phone number—on it, to help insure the animal is returned home.
Birds and horses are extremely susceptible to smoke. Even if your home is not being threatened by flames, smoke can be tremendously harmful. Place birds in enclosed rooms without many windows, and keep horses in a barn, to cut down on smoke inhalation.
“Be prepared. Practice makes perfect,” said Terri Crisp, SPCA’s Animal Resource and Rescue Consultant. “With a little planning and foresight, a lot of confusion can be eliminated and all family members can safely be removed from harm’s way.”
The mission of SPCA International is to raise awareness of the abuse of animals to a global level, to teach and foster good pet parenting practices, and to promote spay and neuter programs around the world, with the goal of eradicating the need to euthanize healthy and adoptable companion animals of all ages.
SPCA.com also provides a global referral resource for animal guardians and advocates throughout the world, as well as offering information to those who seek or wish to adopt a shelter animal.