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November 21, 2007 > OHS


Living on Shaky Ground

By Nancy Lyon

It's been over a week since the 5.6 quake on the Calaveras fault, and sitting here in my home office, I can feel the ground still bumping around and the house creaking several times a day. Hopefully, these are just minor aftershocks or the Hayward fault, just a few blocks away, relieving stress. Or... perhaps there's more to come.

This time Mother Earth was kind enough to give us this heads up without too much damage. I hope we all listened to the old girl, I know I did and found that some of my disaster preparedness planning for the safety of my animal family fell short of being ideal.

OK it's time for us to shape up! Here's a crash course in the basics of protecting your critters in case of a serious earthquake or other disaster:

Before disaster hits
Get to know your neighbors and develop a "buddy system". Ask a neighbor to check on your companion animals after a quake if you are not home. Your animals should know and be comfortable with this person before the fact. Offer to do the same for their animals.

Arrange temporary housing for your companion animals with neighbors or friends if your house becomes uninhabitable. Most human disaster-relief shelters won't admit animals, some may help you to find shelter for them but it will probably be low priority as they will be under great pressure. Keep an up-to-date list of veterinarians, kennels, and groomers that might be able to board them on short notice. Check for local motels/hotels that will take companion animals, those that don't may make an exception in an emergency situation.

Accustom your animals to portable kennels or other suitable pens, and keep one for each. You may need them for temporary quarters. For a multiple cat household, consider purchasing soft Evaksak carriers as an alternative to crates as they take less room in a car. They can be purchased at 1-800-338-ACES. Pack a blanket, favorite toy, and a small garment with your scent on it, and paper towels for cleanups.

Have a harness and leash for all dogs. Frightened dogs may pull out of a regular collar. Accustom them to the harness before the fact. Keep extras in your car.

Keep a first-aide pamphlet available and a kit with first-aide supplies. Check with your veterinarian on what should go into your kit. Better yet, take a class that teaches emergency aide for injured companion animals, it may save his or her life.

If your animal is on continuing medication, talk to your veterinarian about keeping a backup supply and how to store it during an emergency. Have at least a week's supply of their regular food. Store in an airtight/waterproof container. Rotate often. Include a supply of favorite treats to keep animals occupied if they must be confined. Try to follow your regular feeding schedule as this helps relieve stress and digestive upset.

Keep at least a week's supply of gallon containers of bottled water for each animal. Store in a cool place, out of the sun. Rotate often. If you are instructed to boil your tap water, it means it is also unsafe for your animals to drink.

During and after
Don't try and to hold your animal friend during a quake. Animals instinctively want to hide when their safety is threatened. If you get in the way, even the nicest but frightened animal may bite or scratch you out of fear. Comfort them normally after they have calmed.

Whenever possible do not get separated. If you must evacuate do not leave your animals behind. The chances of them surviving are greatly decreased if you do.
If you are forced to leave them, post signs on your front and back doors alerting rescue workers that animals are in your home or on your property. List the type and name of your animals. If you can't find your companion animal or are forced to leave her (know your rights) at home after a quake or other disaster, leave fresh water in non-spill containers such as bath tubs and sinks; plenty of low-fat dry food, which deteriorates more slowly, and is less tasty so animals are less, inclined to try and eat it all at once. Leave a note indicating you have an animal and his name, where you will be, several contact phone numbers - an out-of-area contact number in case local lines are down, and the date.

The unthinkable -getting separated
Always make sure your companion animal is wearing identification with a current phone number and address. Even on your inside cat, keep them on a breakaway collar. Keep a supply of tags you can write on in case you are evacuated.

Talk to your veterinarian about micro-chipping as added ID insurance. This is very important because if your animal companion is relocated out of your immediate area there is a greater chance of a reunion. Many shelters have universal chip readers that can read more than one brand.

Have several close-up photos of your animal with your important papers. They should show any special identifying marks. Store pictures in a ziplock bag to protect them from the elements. This will help identify him if he escapes after a quake.

Keep vaccinations current including rabies, with copies of immunization records in an emergency kit. If your animal bites someone, it may prevent him from being impounded.

Are we ready?
It is estimated that Hurricane Katrina left over 600,000 companion animals dead or without shelter. Many people were forced by local agencies to abandon their animals or place themselves in jeopardy rather than leave them. The response to this betrayal resulted in a national outcry that was deafening and to prevent this anguish in future disasters, on October 6, 2006 the federal government passed into law the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act.

This legislation mandates provisions for animals in evacuation plans. Consequently, evacuation and sheltering plans will need to accommodate people and their animals to ensure orderly and timely evacuation in a disaster. It will help fund procuring, constructing or renovating emergency shelter facilities and materials to accommodate people with companion/service animals.

It's a start but where is your city in the process? Are they giving it the priority it deserves? All too often animal welfare matters are at the bottom of the list - it's time to give them a wake up call. Check with your local Animal Services agency or City Manager ask what they're doing to comply with federal law...Mother Earth's clock is ticking.

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