By Meslissa Rivera
The video was all over social media a week and a half ago: a man panicking, hopping up and down, coaxing and finally saving a wild rabbit that ran toward the flames of the Thomas Fire in southern California.
Disasters like fires are just as hard on animals as they are on people. At least 46 racehorses died and a trainer was injured last week when the Lilac Fire blasted through the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center, in San Diego County. By December 10, Ventura County Animal Services was housing more than 1,000 fire-evacuated pets, according to a story from the Ventura County Star. Animal control officers there evacuated about 100 birds from one home, including chickens, quail and a peacock, the story said.
The story said that although animal rescue services were keeping up with demands for food, veterinary care and other needs, they were struggling in part because people weren’t prepared to evacuate their animals.
“We’ve had an extreme volume of calls,” Ventura County Animal Services field operations supervisor Brian Bray told the Ventura County Star. “Everything from ‘Can you check on my animals because I’ve been evacuated’ to ‘my animals need to be evacuated’ to ‘where can I take my animals.’”
Some of the fires raging in southern California moved so fast people got burned trying to get away.
Do you have the ability to transport your pets out of harm’s way if you have just minutes to evacuate?
“What we’ve noticed is a lot of transportation issues as far as livestock and large animals, people not having enough trailers or not being able to get them out quickly enough,” Bray told the Ventura County Star.
Do you have a pet carrier? How big is it? The Humane Society of the United States recommends a carrier large enough to allow a pet to stand comfortably, turn around and lie down. Small pets should have a secure cage with blankets or towels for warmth and any species-specific needs. Also bring leashes or harnesses. If possible, a pet’s bed and toys from home are useful to reduce its stress.
Do you have someone who can evacuate your pet if you’re not home?
Some pet owners in the San Diego metro area got evacuation orders while they were at work, Kelli Schry, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Humane Society told the Arizona Republic.
Ask a neighbor or nearby family member to take your pets if you’re not at home when there’s a disaster. Give that person a key and show them where your pets are likely to hide and where you keep emergency supplies. Make sure that person knows your pets and vice-versa.
Also, know how to reach your local Humane Society or animal protection service in case your backup isn’t around either. They can send people behind fire lines, according to the Arizona Republic story. Do you know where you’ll take your pet?
Most evacuation shelters won’t take pets. See if you can arrange for friends or relatives outside your immediate area to shelter you and your pets, the Humane Society of the United States said. If you have more than one pet, you may need to house them in separate places. A kennel or vet’s office might board your pets. Or, though this will be more costly, you can track down a pet-friendly hotel.
The Humane Society has a list of online resources for pet-friendly hotels. Remember that many hotels will have a pet surcharge.
Do you have everything your pet will need?
The Humane Society has a checklist for a pet disaster kit.
Pack food and water for five days. Remember a can opener. Though your pet doesn’t need a gallon of water per day, the checklist recommends keeping an extra gallon of water on hand to clean your pet if it gets exposed to chemicals or flood water. You also need equipment to collect pet waste: a cat litter box with litter and a scoop and garbage bags. Include first aid supplies.
Without identification, "we have to rely on a description of the animal, and if someone doesn't come forward or know to go to the Humane Society to look for their pet, then we have no way to contact them," Schry told the Arizona Republic.
Keep your pet’s records handy in a waterproof container, the Humane Society recommended. Include a veterinary history and name of your veterinarian, feeding schedules, medical conditions and behavior issues, in case you have to board your pets away from you.
Take a photo of you with your pet along with its description. That can help others find your pet and prove it’s yours if you get separated.