"Don't tough it out. Get out." That was a FEMA official's no-nonsense warning to residents in the path of powerful Hurricane Dorian. To that, we would add, "And take your animals with you."
Even after the painful lessons of past hurricanes, including Katrina, Harvey and Irma, vulnerable cats, dogs, rabbits, birds and other animals are still routinely left behind in evacuations. It's a terrifying - and often deadly - situation for animals, who are even less equipped to survive a disaster than we are. That's why it's vital for every animal guardian to have a plan in place - long before an emergency strikes - to ensure that all members of the family make it out safely.
PETA's Animal Rescue Team has seen firsthand the trauma that animals endure when left behind to "tough it out" amid hurricane floodwaters and flying debris. During Katrina and Harvey, they scooped stranded animals from rooftops, balconies, floating mattresses, shelves and vehicle roofs. They even found one kitten mewing desperately from a precarious perch on top of an umbrella in a flooded yard. Those were the "lucky" ones: Countless other animals drowned, trapped in crates or left chained up or penned in backyards with no escape from the rising waters.
Why were these animals - and so many others - left behind? For many, it was likely because of a lack of planning: According to a recent survey, 91% of animal guardians are not prepared for a natural disaster.
While Hurricane Dorian was relatively slow-moving, many other hurricanes and disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes and tornadoes don't come with much, if any, warning. In the frantic scramble to gather supplies, load up the car and get on the road, animals whose guardians haven't planned ahead are in danger of being overlooked.
Please, don't let this happen. Start by mapping out possible evacuation routes so you have multiple options for leaving quickly with your animals. Since many emergency shelters do not allow animals, it's vital to find out in advance where you and your animals can stay if you must leave your home. Hotel chains are a good option (many will waive their "no animals" policy during emergencies) as are campgrounds and the homes of friends and family members. Offer to return the favor if the need arises.
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In an emergency, you may not have time to run around gathering up all of your animals' necessities, so assemble an emergency kit ahead of time. Include a carrier (for small animals) and/or a leash and harness to keep animals secure and prevent them from bolting in a frightening, unfamiliar situation. Also pack bowls, towels, a favorite toy, a blanket and a week's worth of food, bottled water and medications. Have your animals microchipped and ensure that they wear identification tags (whenever they leave home, not just in hurricanes).
If you truly have no choice but to evacuate without your animals, do not leave them tied up or confined to crates, pens or hutches. Any of these scenarios is a virtual deathtrap, as animals will have no way of escaping rising waters. Instead, give them a chance by leaving them indoors with access to upper floors. Provide at least a 10-day supply of dry food, and fill sinks, bathtubs and large containers with water for them to drink. Put signs on windows and doors indicating the number and species of animals inside, as rescue workers may be able to save them.
Our animal companions depend on us for everything - especially in the face of chaos and danger. Don't wait for an emergency to strike. Make a plan now so if the worst does happen, you and your animal companions won't have to tough it out. You can get out - together.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.