Natural disasters place a tremendous strain on shelters and rescues. Scared animals get spooked and run away from their owners or their enclosures are damaged and they make a run for it. In many cases, these animals don’t have microchips or identification tags. And of those that do, some may still never be reunited with their family. This results in shelters and rescues full of homeless cats and dogs. So how can you prepare for a crisis? Here’s your natural disaster preparation checklist.
1. Make a Plan
Work with your local fire and police departments to create an evacuation plan and decide on a dedicated safe meeting place. Make sure all teammates are trained in executing said plan. Also make arrangements with other local shelters so they can serve as emergency housing for your animals should disaster strike. In addition, make sure you have methods of recording and identifying stray animals and pets that come in after a natural disaster, in the event you cannot access your shelter. This might be as simple as keeping extra paper and pens on hand.
Choose people on your team to be leaders during a natural disaster. They’ll form a Disaster Action Team and be in charge of assessing damage, transporting people and pets, managing public and media relations and other responsibilities throughout the crisis. You should also have backup teams to staff your shelter in the aftermath in case your normal team is unable to do so.
2. Store Extra Leashes
Establish a central location for emergency leashes where they can be easily accessed in each area that houses canines. As a precaution, we recommend there should be two leashes for every one animal. These leashes will be used to guide dogs to safety during an evacuation. Use slip leads if the dogs do not have collars, otherwise regular leashes are okay. Add carabiners on the handle of leashes so you can clip dogs to fencing in safe areas if needed. Carabiners are metal loops with spring-loaded clips that rock climbers use. If possible, keep a few steel cable leashes in emergency kits for dogs who chew leashes.
3. Store Cat Carriers and Pillowcases
Getting cats out of your shelter and over to safety is a different story. Keep pillowcases for cats instead of box carriers, as these can be hard to put together in an emergency and frequently break if wet. Make sure the pillowcases are a BREATHABLE material such as cotton. If there is space in each kennel area, keep a few plastic carriers handy. Use plastic zip ties and/or adhesive tape to close the pillowcases.
4. Get an Emergency Kit
Store an emergency kit in your shelter or rescue. Include items like:
- A flashlight in case the power goes out
- Heavy gloves that will protect you against animal bites from frightened animals
- Water in bulk (test it once or twice a year)
- Blankets or towels
- Food and water bowls
- Foldable kennels
5. Educate Your Community
One of the best ways to prevent pets from getting lost in the first place is by educating your community. Encourage everyone to outfit their pets with collars, ID tags and microchips and remind them to register their microchips (they can do so for free at Found.org!). They should also have an animal rescue sticker on the windows of their homes. Then have community pet owners make an emergency kit for their pets. It should include:
- Pet food and water
- Food and water bowls
- Vet records
- Poop bags or litter and a litter box
- Leash and harness and/or a carrier
Natural disasters are incredibly stressful for everyone, but with a little preparation, you can lessen the burden placed on your shelter or rescue.