Alright, let’s assume a hurricane is headed your way. Towns and cities usually go on levels of alert. Voluntary evacuation is just that, you can go or stay, it’s up to you. Mandatory evacuation means the city officials want you to pack up and get out of town. It also means if you decide to stay, you’re on your own. 911 won’t work, and none of the emergency people who remain are going to be running out to your house in 120 mph winds to help you, should a tree crash through your roof.
My best advice will always be, if there is a mandatory evacuation, leave if possible. I know, I know, easier said than done, and I realize this…I’ve been there, done that. It takes money to evacuate. Not many of us have a spare $1000 in the bank, or even $500. But most of us have enough money for a few extra gallons of water or pet food. Even buying one extra can or bag of pet food at a time, eventually builds into a respectable emergency stash. All of us are capable of creating a small space somewhere, even in an apartment, to store emergency pet supplies in. Cases of food will fit under beds or dressers. Kennels dismantle, stack up, and can hold bags of dog food or supplies.You need to be creative.
My Shih-tzus have their own area in my laundry room with food, water, toys, bedding….but their cushioned bed is nested inside a sturdy plastic kennel. I store cases of dog food on top, along with a basket that holds leashes, harnesses, and supplies. I have a lot of cats, so I also have multiple cat beds. These are nested inside dismantled kennels. You take the kennel apart, store the hardware and door in the bottom, nest the top inside the bottom, and it creates a nice holder for a bed. You have to make space in your home for the cat beds anyway, right? Put them in a dismantled kennel and it doesn’t take up any extra room, plus if you ever have to evacuate, you don’t have to be searching for a kennel…it’s sitting right there.
Picture this very minute having to pack up your dog, cat, bird, lizard, whatever, and taking it with you in a hurry…in a bus or car, to stay someplace for at least a week. Could you do it? If the answer is no, and you live in a coastal area, you need to prep. Research one of those Hurricane Prep Lists that are all over the internet for humans…use one as a guideline and adapt it to whatever pet you own. Cats may not need changes of clothing, but they need towels (accidents happen), maybe a blanket, safety harness and a leash. Grab a pad of paper and start writing…you’ll be surprised at what you may already have in the way of supplies.
Take food, for instance, if you have 12 extra cans of cat food, great. But the next step is to calculate how many times a day you feed the cat, how much does it eat, and how long the 12 cans will last. I have two large Maine Coon cats I adopted years ago. They eat at least two tall cans of cat food per day. If I had to evacuate with them, I’d need 14 cans of food just for one week. If I came back with them after a storm had hit my city, and supplies were possibly interrupted, I’d need at least another 14 cans of food for each week until supplies started coming back in. I grocery shop every other week, so if I start buying 2-3 extra cans on each trip, that’s 4-6 cans a month, roughly….in six months I will have 24-36 extra cans, and that equates into about two to three weeks of food for my Maine Coons. It won’t break your budget to buy a can of pet food for $1 here and there, and if it does, I question how you can afford to even keep a pet and pay it’s vet bills.
And no, I wouldn’t evacuate with all those cans. I’d evacuate with food needed for the trip, and stash the rest on a second floor, or on upper shelves of a kitchen, pantry, or closet. Even the worst storms in the Gulf don’t usually produce a storm surge 8 to 12 feet high in most areas, unless you live directly on the beach….then the water can submerge an entire waterfront house, in which case your cans will sink, but that will be the least of your problems. The town you evacuate to will most likely have pet food. You need to leave your food stash so that you have it when you return , because you won’t even be able to find people food easily, let alone pet food.
Planning works. Lists are invaluable, because if you ever are under a mandatory evacuation, trust me, you’re going to forget things. Plan for your pet like you would plan for any child in your family. Like a child, pets can’t take care of themselves, you have to do it for them. So what’s going to be on your list? Here’s a basic idea of what I mean, I’ll use my cats as an example:
Kennels/Cages— I have one large hard plastic kennel, that my husband fashioned a sort of shelf in….it’s high enough to fit a litter pan under it, and leaves room on the top for at least two to three cats to lie on, which leaves the area in front open for another two to three cats. You don’t need to have individual kennels if you have multiple cats. I certainly don’t have room even in my large passenger van for seven individual kennels. You can bet if a hurricane threatens, the big kennel is going to get the seven cats stowed inside…it may make for tight quarters, but it’s better than getting left behind. This may or may not work for multiple small dogs, unless they get along really well. Keep in mind even my large dogs who were best of friends, went nuts from the stress and started to fight, seriously tearing into one another with their teeth. You may need separate kennels for each dog.
Evacuation shelters all have different rules. Kennels, cages, or enclosures are very important if you are headed towards a shelter, because most shelters do not allow animals to stay with their owners. They are housed in a different area, and must be contained. This means if you have multiple dogs or cats like I did, you are going to have to find room somewhere, to pack more dis-assembled kennels in or on top of your vehicle, because most shelters won’t allow them to be crowded together in one kennel. If you plan on evacuating to a shelter building, you must usually have kennels for each animal.
Litter pans/Litter–you can buy smallish litter pans with no tops that fit inside kennels. Litter doesn’t have to be more than a few inches deep. You don’t need it flying everywhere during a long trip, you just need it to contain the mess. In case of emergencies, like if one of the cats has diarrhea from the stress, pack an extra bag of litter, and don’t forget a scoop! If an odorous accident occurs, you can always dump the bad litter out on the shoulder of the road, if possible, and refill the pan. For dogs, this would equate into an adequate supply of pee pads or newspaper, not to mention garbage bags to dispose of it in.
Food– pack what the animal needs to eat for at least a week, if you have the room. Please resist the urge to feed any pet during the evacuation; it won’t starve to death. You can feed it when you stop for the night. Pets can get carsick from motion and stress, too. Along many evacuation routes, there’s no place to pull off the road for pets to get out of a vehicle and throw up, because in some instances, the highway patrol won’t allow vehicles to pull over for any reason. Space was so tight in our truck when we evacuated for Hurricane Rita, I actually duct-taped cans of cat food to the roof and sides of the cat kennel. Don’t laugh, it works.
Water–spills all over the place at times during an evacuation…do not put regular bowls of water in a kennel. Invest the money in one of those travel bowls that have a deep well and a rubber/plastic cover, with just enough room for the animal to get a tongue in. Be sure to bring as many containers of water as you can possibly fit into your vehicle, truck, trailer, or whatever…just because pets won’t drink a lot during certain times, doesn’t mean they won’t be thirsty when you stop to check on them, or take dogs for a walk.
Water is useful for so many things, so take a lot of it….it’s impossible to get on the highway, believe me. And don’t think you can just buy it at gas stations or convenience stores along the way, either….everyone else that’s evacuating is thinking the same thing you are, and has bought it up already. Those stores don’t restock that fast, and even if they did, delivery trucks can’t make it through the roads with tens of thousands of vehicles clogging everything up during an evacuation. Buy the water before you go, if you don’t have enough stashed.
Spritz bottles—are excellent too, like the ones used to spray plants and such. Filled with water, they can break up a cat fight with one spritz, clean dirty paws or faces, or even provide a drink. Squirt a tiny stream of water into the corner of the animals mouth, like you would administer medication….they swallow automatically. If you’re evacuating with very young animals, this can stave off dehydration, as little ones can’t usually manage to drink from those travel bowls.
Toys–a lot of sites will tell you to pack “comfort” items such as a favorite toy, or blanket…and it’s up to you what might give your pet a little more peace of mind. I didn’t pack any toys for my animals as I didn’t have the room. They didn’t want to play anyway, as it was a terrible evacuation, and all my animals were sort of shell-shocked and silent, or stressed to the max and antsy. Plus, the last thing I needed was animals getting territorial over a toy or a chew bone, crowded together like they were.
Medical Records/Medications—fortunately, none of my animal clan was on medication during evacuation. Thankfully, we weren’t headed to a shelter, because I had none of my animals medical records with me. I hadn’t thought to get them, and when the thought did hit my crazed out brain, the vets were too busy to provide them, as they were trying to secure their facilities for the storm, and most of their staff had evacuated.
Most shelters will not allow your pets in if you do not have proof they are vaccinated and safe. So do yourself a huge favor if you plan to stay at a public shelter during an evacuation, and at the first hint of a storm, get copies made of all your pet’s vaccinations, especially rabies. If you can’t find the rabies tag then get a certificate, because shelters can absolutely refuse to take your animals without one. Do not wait until the storm is about to hit if you are low on medication, either. The vets are not going to stay open to supply the meds just because you didn’t think the storm was actually going to hit, and didn’t bother to get a refill.
Cleaning/Comfort Supplies–means anything to clean up a mess or make a pet comfortable. Animals under stress may poop or pee all over everything, or throw up. Sometimes all three. It’s basically the same as traveling with infants, toddlers, or young children…..pack a whole lot of paper towels, wet wipes and plastic bags. Towels of any kind, wet wipes of any brand and plastic bags from any store, can save your sanity. During a long, exhausting and massively stressful evacuation, you will find these items become more valuable than gold. Whatever you use for cleaning up a mess, get some extras and pack them in the supply box.
Leashes/Harnesses–my cats don’t wear collars, as they are indoors all the time, but each one now has a harness and leash of its own, stored in an emergency storm supply box. Why? In case anything unexpected happened, and a cat had to be removed from a kennel during an evacuation, they’d be secure and safe. If they aren’t used to a harness, they’ll get over it eventually. They won’t get over getting hit by a truck or car or getting lost, if you have to open a kennel for any reason, and one of them zips out and escapes. It goes without mentioning the harnesses would go on before the cats were put in the kennel to evacuate….right? It’s a heckuva lot easier to grab a harness and snap a leash on, then trying to wrestle a stressed out feline into a harness during such an event. Put the harness on, ignore any attitude, kennel them and hope you don’t need to remove them until you get to a safe place. It goes without saying, dogs should already be wearing a collar or a harness, too.
ID Tags–none of my animals had a name tag during our escape from Hurricane Rita. They all have one now, attached to their new harnesses. It has their name, my cell phone number and my oldest son’s cell phone number on it. In a worst case scenario, if we ever had some sort of accident during an evacuation (and many accidents happen in evacs ), it won’t do much good to have my cell phone number by itself on an ID tag, will it? Who would the emergency service people call if it was me in the accident? Exactly.
My oldest son has the ability to come and get the animals if such a thing were ever necessary. ID tags aren’t all that expensive. Get a plain one, and have an alternate number on it that won’t be someone you are evacuating with…if these are strictly Evacuation ID tags, leave them on the emergency harness or whatever you plan to use. If you can’t afford a lot of tags, figure out something to attach to your pet’s collar/harness that has basic info, written in indelible ink, and that has an alternate phone number of someone NOT traveling with you.
Pictures–for the truly prepared people, photo ID is a big help, “just in case.” I think this would only work if there was an obvious distinction between your pets, but I have two Maine Coon cats that are nearly identical in color and markings. I can tell them apart, but others find it difficult. If anyone has any other ideas on how to differentiate similar pets with photos, I’d love to hear them.
Emergency Stash Box/Container–this means, actually have one. Any type of container or box is sufficient if it holds the wet wipes, towels, harnesses, spritz bottles, etc. It can be a basket, plastic bin, or a plain cardboard box; what matters is that you’ll have these supplies all in one place; and not have to scramble to find them when you’re trying to get out of town in a hurry.
DO NOT FORGET YOUR LIST– you may forget to pack the entire emergency supply box and evacuate without it, because you didn’t look at your List ( that you’re making now, right?) and realize that the first item ON the List should be….
1. PACK EMERGENCY SUPPLY BOX IN VEHICLE!
You should check to make sure everything you need is IN the box while it’s inside your vehicle. The reason I emphasize this is because, yes, I did indeed have a box and a list, I checked the box against the list…saw everything in its place and then realized after we had driven halfway down the street, I had forgotten to put the actual supply box into the truck.
The reason I caught this was because every time our ancient Shih-tzu gets into a vehicle of any sort, she poops, pees and throws up inside of two minutes. It never fails. My sons forgot this little fact, my husband forgot it, I forgot it, and when we all looked frantically for paper towels to clean up the smelly mess, there weren’t any. They were sitting in the emergency supply box I had left back in the garage.
Evacuation from a major hurricane headed your way means you don’t think clearly and can forget important things. It means you have to turn around and drive back to pack the forgotten thing. It means your husband gets cranky and yells at you for forgetting to pack the emergency supply box. It means you yell back because he was the one who said you were being paranoid and an alarmist for even thinking an emergency supply box was needed.
I cannot emphasize this enough, so I will repeat it: Make a List. Prepare an Emergency Box. If you live in a city or town that has issued a Mandatory Evacuation order, PACK THE BOX FIRST AND CHECK IT”S CONTENTS WHILE IT IS INSIDE OF THE VEHICLE.
Prepping, Planning, Lists and Emergency Supplies are good things. Angry husbands and teenagers, animals that have just vomited, pooped and peed on the teenagers, along with no supplies to clean it up, are bad things you seriously want to avoid. Trust me on this.