(BPT) - News of natural disasters can stir our compassion, inspire us to find ways to help and remind us of the need to prepare our own homes and families to cope with emergencies, including severe weather, earthquakes and fire. Every family should have a disaster plan, so that if a disaster strikes, youíll be ready to make the best use of aid from the shelters, volunteer organizations and government agencies that respond in a crisis.
In addition to taking care of the human members of your family, itís important to have a plan in place for your pet. Approximately 70 million pet dogs and 74.1 million pet cats live in the United States and nearly 64 percent of owners consider their pets to be family members, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Natural disasters can be especially stressful and dangerous for four-legged victims, which makes proper preparation even more important.
ďWhen disaster strikes, taking care of human victims is a priority for aid resources,Ē says Dr. Dan Aja, director of U.S. professional and veterinary affairs for Hillís Pet Nutrition, the makers of Hillís Science Diet and Hillís Ideal Balance. ďNot all shelters can accept pets during an evacuation, and organizations that help house and feed human victims may not be able to provide assistance to pets.Ē
While Hillís Food, Shelter & Love Disaster Relief Network provides aid to pets following a disaster, families should take steps to help protect their pets before an emergency occurs, Dr. Aja notes. As part of Hillís Food, Shelter & Love program, the Disaster Relief Network consists of nearly 100 participating shelters, allowing Hillís to distribute emergency food supplies to the pets within hours.
Dr. Aja offers some advice for families looking to create a plan for their pets:
* During an evacuation, separation from loved ones is always a risk. Help ensure relief workers are able to identify your pets Ė through a microchip or ID tag with your current contact information. Owners should also carry good pictures of their pets in case they become separated during a disaster. Doing so will help shelter volunteers reunite pets with their owners more quickly.
* Learn where your pet likes to hide in your house, so that you can quickly find him or her when itís time to evacuate.
* Prepare an emergency kit of pet supplies and keep it readily accessible in case you have to evacuate. Your kit should include first aid supplies and a guide book, a three-day supply of pet food in a waterproof container, bottled water, a safety harness and leash, waste cleanup supplies, medications and medical records, a contact list of veterinarian and pet care organizations, information on your petís feeding routine and any behavioral issues, and a blanket.
* Plan where you will take your pet if you need to leave your immediate area. Disaster shelters may not be able to accept pets, so itís important to have a backup plan. Check for hotels or motels with pet-friendly policies (you can find listings on GoPetFriendly.com) or ask relatives or friends if they could house you and/or your pet.
* The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says if you have to evacuate from your home, you should not leave your pets behind. If possible, use a pet carrier or crate to transport your pet. A carrier keeps pets safer in moving vehicles, can provide temporary quarters if you must go to a shelter, and helps you keep track of your pet if things get confusing or frightening for him or her.
Pet lovers can also support organizations that aid pets during times of disaster. Supporters can donate, volunteer or find out about adopting a homeless pet at www.hillspet.com/shelter/pet-shelters.html.
ďBecause owners have such strong bonds with their pets, we want to encourage pet parents to think about how their pets factor into their evacuation plans,Ē Aja says. ďTaking precautionary steps can help owners avoid delays in the event of an emergency.Ē