Being a Hero to Your Pet
By Tania Fardella
Published in the Alameda Sun March 20, 2008

What would you do if you and your pets had just a few moments to evacuate your home? From earthquake to firestorm to severe weather and flooding, we've seen our fair share of natural disasters here in the Bay Area. Are you appropriately prepared to evacuate your pet in case of an emergency? Do your research, plan in advance, and be ready. One day, your pet's life may depend on it.

During Hurricane Katrina, countless companion pets perished and residents had to make the unthinkable, heart-wrenching decision whether to leave them behind, since animals were not allowed at emergency shelters nor on public transportation. In the wake of the tragedy, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS Act) was signed into federal law in October 2006. The law requires emergency preparedness authorities to include accommodations for household pets and service animals.

Dr. Rene Gandolfi, founder and chief veterinarian of Castro Valley Companion Animal Hospital, who was instrumental in reuniting hundreds of lost pets with their guardians after the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, said that despite the new laws, pet guardians still need to plan ahead and take responsibility.

"If the authorities tell you to evacuate, definitely do so along with your pet, but don't assume that they will help very much with animals. Their priority will be people and property," he said.

Gandolfi recommends that all pet guardians assemble an emergency kit, and be sure to keep a tickler file or calendar as a reminder when it is time to rotate out food, water or expired medications. Also, he strongly suggests designating a trusted friend or family member who has agreed in advance to care for your pet should the need arise.

In addition, Gandolfi said that microchipping your pet is extremely important, since it allows rescue workers to identify animals instantly. "After the Oakland Hills Fire, a woman who had not microchipped her cat searched local shelters for six months. Because the cat was so severely injured, she didn't recognize him until his fur had grown in. If he had been microchipped, they could have been reunited shortly after the fire."

The ASPCA recommends the following guidelines for putting together an "Evac-pack" emergency kit. The kit should be clearly labeled, easy to carry, and all family members should know exactly where it is kept.

• Pet first-aid kit and guide book (ask your vet what to include, or purchase one online at the ASPCA store at www.aspca.org.)

• Three to seven days' worth of canned (pop-top) or dry food (be sure to rotate supplies every two months.)

• Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect.)

• Litter or paper toweling

• Liquid dish soap and disinfectant

• Disposable garbage bags for clean-up

• Pet feeding dishes

• Extra harness and leash (note: harnesses are recommended for safety and security.)

• Photocopies of medical records and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires (remember, food and expired medications need to be rotated out of your emergency kit — otherwise they may go bad or become useless.)

• Bottled water, at least seven days' worth for each person and pet (store in a cool, dry place and replace every two months.)

• A travel bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet

• Flashlight

• Blanket (for scooping up a fearful pet.)

• Recent photos of your pets (in case you are separated and need to make "Lost" posters.)

• Especially for cats: Pillowcase or EvacSack, toys, scoopable litter

• Especially for dogs: Long leash and yard stake, toys and chew toys, a week's worth of cage liner.

Visit the ASPCA's website to see additional recommendations for small animals, birds and reptiles, to order free window stickers to advise emergency personnel that there are pets inside your home, and to learn more about what you can do to prepare your pets. Also, don't forget your own personal emergency kit: visit www.fema.gov for information and guidelines from the federal government.

© Tania Fardella, all rights reserved.

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