How to incorporate pets into your emergency plans

For Howard Magazine
Consider these pet tips when preparing for the unthinkable. If it's not safe for you, it's not safe for them.

Q: Any pet-care emergency preparedness tips in case of natural disasters and power outages?

A: As we often see in the news, Mother Nature can be punishing, but we’re generally fortunate here in the Mid-Atlantic. Unlike other regions, we’re spared from major earthquakes and wildfires. And while hits from big hurricanes are occasional, we are geographically prone to seasonal storms. No one can forget the fast-moving summer “derecho” of June 2012 — among the most severe and destructive thunderstorms in American history, causing over 20 deaths and leaving more than 1.5 million Marylanders without power for as much as a week.

Just in 2016, we had a record-setting January blizzard, tornadic thunderstorms ripping across western Howard County in June and the late-July thunderstorm that caused devastating flash-flooding in Ellicott City and millions of dollars of damage, disrupting the lives of hundreds of residents for months (and maybe years) to come.

So the unthinkable can happen. If you’re prepared, your pets are less likely to be among the many who end up abandoned. As notes, if you do have to evacuate, take your pets with you if at all possible. If it’s not safe for you to stay home, it’s not safe for them. Consider these tips:

ID tags

Cats and dogs should wear collars with up-to-date ID tags, including your cell phone number and, if possible, the numbers of friends or relatives living elsewhere, in case you’ve had to evacuate. We also love microchip ID (keep your registration updated annually), but only rescue personnel with a chip-scanner can read a microchip. Anybody can read a tag.

Disaster kits

Pack a basic disaster kit, including food and bottled water for at least five days for each pet, plus bowls and a manual can opener if you’re taking canned food. Pack copies of medical records and a two-week-supply of medications stored in a waterproof container, along with a first-aid kit. Also include bedding and a few toys. For cats, take a litter box, litter and a scoop. Add plastic bags for pet waste and leashes, harnesses and carriers to keep pets safe and secure during transport. For smaller pets, have a secure cage, including appropriate bedding if they need it.

Current photos

Carry current photos of you with your pets (plus pet descriptions) to help others identify them in case you and your pets become separated — and to prove they’re yours if they’re found.

Care instructions

Make sure you have written details on your pets’ feeding schedules, medical conditions and behavior issues along with contact info for your veterinarian, in case you have to board pets or place them in foster care.

Places to stay

Find safe places to stay, in case of evacuation, possibly including friends and family out of your immediate area, but not too far away. Use online resources to make a list of pet-friendly hotels to keep with your emergency kit. Find out in advance from local government and social-service agencies if emergency shelters allow family pets or not.

Emergency pet-sitters

In case of emergencies that keep you from getting to your pets at home, make reciprocal arrangements with friends or neighbors to look after your pets in your absence — someone you trust with your pets and your house keys. Let them know where your pet-emergency kit is, too, in case they have to leave the area.

Window decals

Have a Pet Rescue Alert decal on your front window or door so first responders will know if there’s an animal needing rescue. However, if you do leave home with your pets, remove or mark the decal as “evacuated” if you have time, so rescue personnel won’t waste valuable time looking for a pet that isn’t there.

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More Resources

For additional emergency-prep information, check these online resources: — Includes a more detailed emergency kit checklist. — For a complete online Disaster Preparedness and Resource Guide for Pets

Pet-friendly lodging sites —,,,,,