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Preparing for Natural Disasters
Lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
Pet Evacuation / Preparing for Natural Disasters

Hurricane sandy claimed hundreds of lives and caused billions of dollars in damage across the Caribbean and along the east coast of the United States. My family was fortunate to have weathered the storm safely, but I learned a lot of things that will help me better prepare my pets for the next storm.

Hunkering Down at Home
Keeping boredom at bay. Dealing with cabin fever was the least of my concerns, but it was practically a full-time job keeping Scuttle, my six-monthold Border Collie, entertained. We did everything from playing tug to figuring out a new Nina Ottosson puzzle toy. Scuttle even learned how to walk backwards. Being stuck in the house was a great excuse to teach new tricks, and mental exercise is just as important, if not more tiring, than physical exercise.

Dealing with anxiety. I was fortunate that none of my pets were afraid during the hurricane, but if you know that your dogs are prone to anxiety, it’s good to have a few tools on hand to help them cope, such as a Thundershirt, Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) spray or Rescue Remedy. Just remember to introduce these things before the scary storm so they don’t become part of a bad association.

Potty time. Falling trees killed many people during Hurricane Sandy, including two in New York City who were out walking their dog (the dog was injured but survived). The howling wind was so terrifying that a couple of times, I immediately ran back inside withouteven giving my pups a chance to do their business. I immediately wished I’d prepared an indoor potty area in my garage with a litter box or a tarp filled with dirt and grass. You can also put down housebreaking pads if your dogs will use them.

If you don’t want to bother with a potty area, you should at least determine the safest spots outside. During the storm, I tried to stay as far away as possible from trees and power lines, while watching out for downed wires and other debris.

Surviving blackouts. Power outages were widespread during the hurricane, forcing people to go for days without heat, and some, without running water. Most people I know bundled up and hoped for the best, while others relied on generators (which became tricky because of the gas shortage), or stayed with friends who had heat. The length of the blackouts highlighted the importance of having a backup plan, particularly if you have pets who are sensitive to extreme temperatures. I was lucky to have many friends who offered generators and places to stay, but these are the types of arrangements you want to line up before you need them.

Finding Lost Pets
Unfortunately, during every natural disaster, there are always too many stories of pets who got spooked and ran off. It goes without saying that identification tags and microchip registrations need to be up-to-date, but sitting in my house, I kept thinking that if I were to lose one of my dogs, I had no way of making posters without electricity. It would be invaluable to print out fliers with your pet’s photo ahead of time, along with a list of phone numbers for local shelters and veterinarians. When an animal is missing, every minute counts.

Preparing to Evacuate
After the hurricane ran its course, there was nothing more haunting than images of houses completely destroyed by the storm. Thanks to the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006, local and state government agencies are required to come up with an emergency plan that includes animals. Still, many people, who assumed they couldn’t bring their pets, left them behind. It’s critical to know ahead of time where your dogs will be welcomed: at an evacuation center, a hotel or a friend’s house.

Two things will also make evacuating a lot easier: creating a go bag (see the Pet Evacuation Bag Checklist) and crate-training your dogs. Evacuation centers require pets to be in kennels, and you don’t want an emergency to be the first time your dog sees a crate.

My friends and I endured several days of blackouts, road closures and gas shortages—and we were the lucky ones. Sandy was the second hurricane to hit our area in 14 months and I’m determined to be as prepared as possible for the next one. I know my pets are depending on me.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 73: Spring 2013
JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photograph by Sue Mack

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