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Published 5th July 2006, 4:4pm

While making preparations for your family and loved ones early in the hurricane season is critical, it is equally important that you also plan for the smaller and often helpless members of the family-your pets.

Without proper accommodation plans made well in advance of any possible disasters, pets are likely to get injured, lost, or worse, and it will be difficult if not impossible to find shelter for your animals just before a storm. Even if you decide to stay home, authorities may issue evacuation orders requiring you to leave at short notice but lack of space as well as health and safety concerns prevent public shelters from accepting pets.

Identify a safe alternative

  • Contact close friends or relatives and ask if they can shelter your animals if you have to leave home. If you have more than one, they may be more comfortable if kept together; however, be prepared to house them separately.
  • Check if your place of work will allow you to shelter there with your pets.
  • Some hotels may accept you with your pet. Call around early to check their policies, as well as restrictions in size, number and species. Ask if "No Pet" policies can be waived in an emergency.
  • Keep a list of pet-friendly places, including phone numbers, with your hurricane supplies. If notified of an impending disaster, call ahead and make reservations.
  • If you evacuate the island, take your pets with you. To prevent any problems, contact the Department of Agriculture well in advance to ensure that your pets comply with all re-import requirements.

Assemble a portable pet supplies kit

Like you, your pets will need essential supplies such as food and water during and after a storm. Keep these in an accessible place, stored in sturdy containers such as duffle bags or covered trash containers that can be easily carried. Supplies should include:

  • a first aid kit, including any medicines your pet is taking, plus medical records;
  • a sturdy leash, harness, and/or carrier for transportation;
  • current photos of your pet in case of loss;
  • food, potable water, bowls, cans opener, litter, pet bed and toys. Add information on feeding times, medical conditions, and behaviour problems, plus the name and number of your veterinarian. These will be especially important if you are leaving your pet with a friend or family member.

What to do as the storm approaches

  • As a storm nears, check your pet disaster kit; ensure it is ready to go at a moment's notice.
  • Contact the hotel or person who agreed to provide shelter to confirm arrangements.
  • Take all pets inside to avoid searching for them if you have to leave home.
  • If you have cats or dogs make sure that they are wearing securely-fastened collars with current identification tags. Using a permanent marker or indelible pen make a temporary tag recording your name and contact details. Fasten this securely to your pet's ID tag.

If you must leave your pets at home there are a few things you should do to ensure their comfort while you are away.

  • Prepare an area that is easily cleaned, such as a bathroom or utility room.
  • Leave several days' supply of food and water in containers that will not easily overturn.
  • Do NOT leave your pet(s) near to windows.

In the event that you were already off island when a storm approaches, contact a trusted neighbour or friend to take care of your pet. This person should:

  • have a key to your home;
  • be comfortable with your pets;
  • know where they are likely to be;
  • know where you've stored your pet disaster kit.

It is best to make arrangements for this prior to your departure in case of a storm in your absence.

Transporting pets

Animals react differently under stress. During or right before a disaster, even the most trusted pet may panic, hide, try to escape, bite or scratch. Post-disaster as you return home, give your pet time to settle back into regular routines. If a behaviour problem persists, contact your veterinarian. In general:

  • Keep dogs securely leashed outside your home and in your car.
  • Transport cats in carriers and don't leave animals unattended anywhere they can run off.
  • Transport birds in a secure travel cage or carrier. Provide a few slices of fresh fruit or vegetables with high water content. Have photos and leg bands for identification. If the carrier does not have a perch, line it with paper towels and change them frequently. Do not let the birds out of the cage or carrier; they my become frightened and fly off.
  • Transport small mammals such as hamsters and gerbils in secure carriers suitable for maintaining them throughout the emergency. Take bedding materials, food bowls and water bottles.
  • Turn out horses and other livestock into clean pastures with native vegetation, where they stand a better chance of survival. However, avoid areas that are prone to flooding.

(Further information on sheltering farm animals may be obtained from the Department of Agriculture.)

Additional considerations

All dog owners are required to have their animals micro chipped. The chip is a tiny, harmless electronic device inserted by a veterinarian just under the dog's skin. It contains identification information including the owner's name and address which, in the event of separation, provides the swiftest and best opportunities of being reunited with your pet.

If you plan to take your pet off island, make sure to contact the Department of Agriculture well in advance to find out the requirements for taking your animal out of the country as well as bringing it back in. You should also find out the controls of the country to which you are travelling with your pet.