Wildfires, Evacuations And Dogs

It’s still a challenge, but there have been improvements in recent years
By Karen B. London PhD, November 2019

Pets are the first thing on the "to bring" list when evacuating

Hurricane Katrina taught our society a number of lessons. One of those was that many people will not evacuate if they cannot bring their pets with them, even if that means putting their own safety at risk. With massive wildfires threatening communities all over California and leading to large-scale evacuations, the number of dogs and other pets being displaced along with their people is alarming. Though bringing dogs to safety is still a challenge, there are more options than there used to be in the face of natural disasters. The improvement reflects an increased understanding that these animals are a part of our families, even among people who are not dog lovers themselves.

Many people and organizations are stepping up to ensure the safety of dogs (and other pets), and that is also good for people. People are safer and happier when they know that their best friends are going to be okay. Here are some of the many signs that pet evacuations are considered a high priority and an absolute necessity when it comes to keeping everyone safe in the face of natural disasters.

Free boarding. Among the challenges of finding a place for a dog when required to evacuate is the expense. Many veterinary hospitals are offering free boarding to dogs who have been forced out of their homes, and that is helping people to manage one aspect of the horrible situation in which they find themselves. Sure, it is preferable to be able to stay together as a family with your dog, but when that is not workable, free boarding is a viable option.

Evac-U-Pet: There’s an app for that. There are many people willing to volunteer to help evacuate animals and there are many people in need of assistance. Connecting these people to each other in order to coordinate evacuations, especially for large animals, used to be incredibly tricky, but in a social media world, it’s so much easier. Evac-U-Pet is a free app designed to connect volunteers with people whose pets need help. Small animals such as dogs and cats can be registered, though a key goal of the app is to connect people with trailers to those with horses who need to be transported. (In fact, the tagline for Evac-U-Pet is “the only app that can save your ass.” The creators of the app have lists of what to pack with your pet and definitely advise microchipping pets in case of separation during evacuations.

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Fundraising And Donations. Many organizations are seeking donations in order to better help animals affected by wildfires and the evacuations associated with them. It is increasingly common to see calls for financial contributions or for food and other supplies by pet stores, rescue groups, shelters and humane societies who are either offering temporary homes for evacuated pets or providing support for those who are doing so. Some requests are very specific, such as those requesting extra towels since the blackouts make doing laundry impossible.

Evacuation Plans For Pets Are More Common. One reason that fewer pets are being abandoned and fewer are preventing humans from pursuing their own safest option is that many people understand the importance of incorporating their pets into their emergency plans. Our society has learned that plans are necessary for pets, and there are many guidelines for keeping your pets safe before and during evacuations. Thankfully, making plans for pets is more feasible than it has been in the past. There are more pet-friendly hotels than there used to be, and there are more people who understand that if they welcome a family to stay with them, that will include hosting that family’s pets.

Now is the perfect time to put together a first aid kit, emergency supplies, and plan ahead. Learn how to prepare for the care of your pet in an emergency.

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She has authored five books on canine training and behavior.

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