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How to evacuate with your pet

By Jim Sloan on May 10th, 2010
Homeowners Insurance

Homeowners forced from their homes by flood, hurricane or wildfire often face a difficult choice of whether to flee with their pets or to leave their animals behind to fend for themselves.

But with some advance preparation, you can keep your pet safe in the event a disaster forces you from your home. Pets are an added burden during what can undoubtedly be a stressful time, so it pays to plan ahead.

Special precautions you have to take if you are evacuating with a pet

  • Most evacuation centers don't allow pets, so spend some time before disaster strikes to phone around to find a hotel or motel that is likely to be out of harm's way and accepts pets. When there's a mandatory evacuation, home insurance pays for your "additional living expenses."
  • Before a disaster, check with your local humane society to find out about community disaster response plans that include pets. Because Hurricane Katrina forced many New Orleans residents to leave their pets behind, Congress passed a law requiring emergency preparedness officials to consider how pets and service animals fit into evacuation plans.
  • Keep a list in your cell phone of all area boarding facilities so you can quickly call one in an emergency.
  • Have your pet a microchip. Collar tags are important, but in an emergency they can be lost. A microchip may help you find your pet if you get separated from it.

A disaster preparedness kit for your pet

In addition to coming up with an evacuation plan, you should also put together a pet's disaster preparedness kit. The kit should include:

  • Leashes and collars.
  • Food and water for at least three days. If you use canned food, remember to pack a manual can opener.
  • A pet carrier for each animal. For cats, have a crate large enough to hold both their bed and their litter box. A crate may give your pet a sense of security and a place to retreat to if there are other pets in the vicinity.
  • The American Veterinary Medical Association also recommends you carry proof of ownership--photocopies of registration information, adoption papers, proof of purchase and microchip information. You should list each pet's species, breed, age, sex, color and distinguishable characteristics. Carry photos of your pets and pictures of you and your pet in case there is a dispute of ownership.
  • Medication and medical records, including your veterinarian's phone number, kept in a waterproof container. Include proof of rabies vaccination. You can keep these documents with any lists you have compiled to help settle home insurance claims.
  • Company contact information if you have pet insurance. Keep this with contact information for your homeowners insurance.
  • I.D. tags with your pet's name, as well as your name and phone number, even if the animal has a microchip.
  • First aid kit for your pet.
  • A familiar toy or brush. An evacuation can be just as stressful on your pet as it is on you, so a familiar toy or a familiar ritual may help your pet relax.

Since Hurricane Katrina, emergency officials have focused more attention on ways homeowners can protect their pets during disasters and evacuations. They advise you not to leave any pets behind--if it's not safe for humans, it won't be safe for pets. Additionally, pets can interfere with emergency responders who are working to save lives and property.

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