Pet Emergency Preparedness – A West Coast Primer
June is designated as National Pet Preparedness Month by the American Humane Society (or AHS). The AHS offers a simple list of ten things to have in your pet preparedness kit, all of which are important. But depending on where you live, the emergencies or natural disasters you prepare for might be a little different.
To give you some added insight, we are teaming up with our friend Dexter over at Fidose of Reality for an east-coast | west-coast look at disaster preparedness. Be sure and visit Dex’s site if you live on the east-coast and are more susceptible to hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes or floods than we are out here on the west side of the country.
Let’s start with earthquakes. We have had a few since we lived here, the last one being just last week with an epicenter in Westwood, CA and magnitude of 4.2. We felt it here, just slightly, but Westwood is a good 50 miles from us. The largest quake in recent history was the Northridge earthquake in 1994, a 6.7 quake that claimed the lives of 63 people. Luckily, we had not moved here yet.
There is an old wives tale that your pets can ‘tell’ when an earthquake is about to strike. It’s never held true with any of our dogs. Both Jack and Maggie slept right through the one we had last week. But it’s not an old wives tale that you need to be prepared. We are fortunate that we live in a fairly rural area in a one-story house, so I don’t worry about the building collapsing or things falling on me, but for those of you in the city, be sure to have a plan if things really start rocking. Bracing yourself in a doorway truly is the best advice. But what about your pet? If they are small enough, hold them, or at the very least get them in the doorway with you. You don’t have time to do much more than that – I would suggest a metal crate if you have time, that would at least keep things from falling on them.
After the quake, assess the damage. Check for downed power lines or damaged water or gas lines. Obviously that would only be a danger if the quake was severe – we have never experienced anything close to that.
Given the drought we’ve been experiencing in the west, another concern is fires. We had a fire not far from us about a year ago – we even wrote about it at the time and offered some tips. You need to be prepared to move and move quickly with a fire as they are unpredictable and spread quickly. California has a reverse-911 protocol in place and they will call us if our area is being evacuated. It’s recommended to get your cell phones registered to the reverse-911 directory as well as your home number.
Whenever there is a fire danger, I stick pretty close to home because of the dogs. We have a special sign in our windows to inform the fire department that there are two dogs inside the house in case we are not home. If you went to Blog Paws, they actually gave one away in the swag bag. I can’t recommend those enough for ANY situation. I imagine you can get these at your local pet store.
A final situation we’ve prepared for here is wildlife. We are fortunate to live very close to an extended “Open Space” area in California. This is totally undeveloped land and will remain that way, but it’s not uninhabited. Depending on the time of year and where we are walking, we encounter coyotes, rattlesnakes and even bobcats around our home. Even more scary: every so often we read signs informing us of mountain lion sightings!
Having a plan already formulated in your head is critical to dealing with any of these situations. Here’s my short list of actions or reactions I plan to take if faced with one of them.
- First and foremost, our home has earthquake insurance. Obtaining this requires that your house be firmly secured or bolted to the foundation.
- Make sure shelves, cupboards, bookcases are also secured firmly – open shelves for your dishes are probably not a good design idea.
- Know where the shut-offs for your gas, power and water lines are in case you need to shut that down for safety purposes. Look for paint cans or other combustibles that are toxic to your pets that may have spilled or fallen off that shelf in the garage.
- Crating your pets, or at least having them crate trained can help keep them safe and out of harms way during a quake and after. If your dog tends to run off when afraid, be sure you know their hiding spots.
- Have a plan, if not written down, at least in your head. What will you take and where will you go if you have to evacuate?
- Most importantly, what will you do with your pets? If you have to go to a temporary shelter, they may not allow your pets. We are fortunate that we have lots of family nearby, so we will impose on them, but not everyone has that luxury. Think about this and make plans so you aren’t left flustered.
- Coyotes are our biggest concern as we see them often – especially at certain times of the year. Typically, we just turn and walk the other way and that’s the end of it. I tend to keep Jack and Maggie on the leash more often than not, so I feel safe they can’t run off. I had many frightening experiences with Sally and Tino chasing the coyotes so I am more cautious then before. Coyotes typically aren’t aggressive and will leave you alone if you leave them alone. We interviewed a CA Park Ranger last year and provided some great tips on handling an encounter with a coyote in this article published at Dogster.
- The standard advice on rattlesnakes is to freeze when you see or hear it and slowly back away. Easy for a human, not so easy for a dog. That’s one reason it’s important to have your dog leashed when you are in rattlesnake country during the time of day that they are out- when it is hot and dry.
- If the unthinkable happens and your dog gets bit, keep calm. That will help your dog stay calm. The venom is carried through the blood stream, so you want to minimize movement of your dog and get them to a vet immediately.
- If you live in rattlesnake country, know which vet in your area has anti-venom in stock. Smaller vets may not have it. There are also rattlesnake avoidance classes that you can sign up for – check to see if they have them in your area.
- If you encounter a bobcat, DON’T listen to your gut which is telling you to turn and run. Follow the same rule as above and back away slowly and deliberately keeping as much distance as possible between you and the bobcat.
- If you have a small dog or pet pick them up and hold them. A larger dog may be harder to control but this is where good leash training comes in handy. Loud noises, including barking, a whistle or an air horn may scare them away.
- We don’t have bears in our part of California, but there are plenty of other places in the west and back east where bears are much more common. I think the advice is similar to any wild animal encounter…back away slowly.
There are many guides and tip manuals out there and I’ve listed several in the Resources section below. Being well prepared do handle emergencies really comes down to common sense and, like a boy scout, being prepared. If you are a pet owner, you have the added responsibility of being prepared for your pet as well as yourself.
Jack wanted me to add one more disaster to the list, although it is not endemic to the West Coast and can happen anywhere in the world. “Running out of bacon“. I’m not sure that really qualifies as a preparedness event, but I told him I would add it. If you have advice to share with our readers on how you’ve prepared, please tell us about it in the comments.
And don’t forget to visit Fidose of Reality to get the east-coast perspective too. Looks like Dexter has his priorities straight as far as what’s important to put in his emergency kit!
Red Cross Earthquake Preparedness for Pets
California Pet Preparedness
Earthquake Preparedness for Pets
California Earthquake Map
Red Cross Wildfire Preparedness for Pets
How to Survive Wildfires (State of Arizona)