Hurricanes can put the hurry in you. When Hurricane Andrew took aim on South Florida in 1992, I stood inside my bathtub with my roommate and three puzzled cats. Living just a mile from the ocean in Lantana, we waited for the Category 5 storm to strike.
But Andrew fooled the meteorologists and abruptly changed course at the last minute to aim its eye farther south in Miami. When he let out his final breath, Andrew racked up $30 billion in damages.
Now in the heart of hurricane season, just how prepared can one be for Mother Nature’s blow-hard side? My answer: It is better to be over-prepared, especially when you have pets. Hurricanes answering to the names of Charley, Frances, Wilma and Katrina convey the urgent need to provide safe havens for people with pets.
Liz Pinson endured a handful of hurricanes while living on Hypoluxo Island with her
dogs and cats for 15 years before recently relocating to North Carolina.
“There was no way we could stay on the island because of the storm surge and there was no way I was going to evacuate without my pets,” says Pinson, who once cajoled friends who had a white-carpeted condo in Sarasota to allow her to bring her three cats and two large dogs named Lucas and Annie. “Leaving my pets behind during mandatory evacuations was never an option for me. I’ve spent time in hotels and friends’ homes with my bunch during each hurricane. We were just lucky to have friends who welcomed our pets in their homes.”
Finally, a pet-accepting shelter is now available in Palm Beach County, specifically at the West Boynton Recreation Center, 6000 Hightree Blvd., Boynton Beach. This facility permits only those pet families who are in an evacuation zone or who live in a mobile home in the county.
Dial 561-233-1266 to hear more details, but the most important rule is that you must pre-register with Animal Care and Control. Do it today by filling out the forms available at www.pbcgov.com/pubsafety/animal. The site features a hurricane-preparedness pet brochure as well as a detailed list of hotels, motels and pet boarding facilities in the county that accept pets during a hurricane.
Whether you are a hurricane veteran or bracing for your first one, here’s a checklist of must-dos:
• Prepare today, not tomorrow. Hurricanes and other disasters never accommodate your busy schedule.
• Post a disaster checklist on your refrigerator or other visible place that includes key phone numbers, including veterinary clinics, boarding facilities, local police, and local Red Cross.
• Make sure your pets have microchip identifications in case they lose their collars and ID tags. And keep them up-to-date on vaccinations and flea/tick medication. Bring proof, otherwise, they will be turned away from pet shelters.
• Create a pet evacuation kit in advance that includes a pet first-aid kit, spare collars, ID tags (with your cell phone and vet hospital phone numbers), a few days’ worth of pet food, bottled water, a week’s worth of medications; toy, litter, food and water bowls. Some places require muzzles for dogs, so pack one. And include copies of your pet’s medical records and medication needs. Keep a spare copy in your car and update it every six months.
• Acclimate your dogs and cats to being inside pet carriers. Make the carrier a fun, safe retreat for your pet and never put him in a carrier as punishment.
• Select collapsible carriers, if possible and use permanent markers to clearly identify the pet’s name, your contact info and tape a photo of your pet on the carrier.
• Pre-arrange with pet-welcoming hotels, boarding facilities and friends ahead of time and remember that the storm’s path can change abruptly, so you need to select welcoming places in different directions.
• Write out specific care instructions for your pets in the event that a disaster strikes when you are away from home. Post this in a visible place for neighbors or friends who will need to care for your pets.
• Post rescue alert stickers on your front and back windows that alerts rescue works as to the number and type of pets you have inside your home. To obtain a free sticker, contact the ASPCA at www.aspca.org and use the keyword disaster.
I can’t even imagine leaving my dogs, Chipper and Cleo, and my cats, Murphy and Zeki, to fend for themselves if a natural disaster strikes. They are four-legged members of my family. After all, they make my house a real home.
To learn more, the following groups provide detailed info on how to prepare for — and cope with — emergencies:
• American Veterinary Medical Association: Saving the Whole Family — www.avma.org/disaster/saving_family.asp
• American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Disaster Preparedness — www.aspca.org/pet-care/disaster-preparedness/
Arden Moore, Founder of Four Legged Life.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author and professional speaker. She happily shares her home with two dogs, two cats and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her Oh Behave! show on Pet Life Radio.com and learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.