Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast Episode 13: “How to protect your pets during a disaster"

Interview with Scotlund Haisley, senior director of emergency services for the Humane Society of the United States, conducted by Teddi Dineley Johnson, reporter, The Nation’s Health, APHA

Narrator: This is the American Public Health Association’s Get Ready Report coming to you from Washington D.C. Today’s episode is an interview with senior director of emergency services for the Humane Society of the United States Scotlund Haisley discussing how to prepare your pets during an emergency.

Interviewer: Often when we think of disasters and preparedness, we consider our children and our families. But oftentimes we don’t think of our pets. Is that correct?

Haisley: Yes, and having a plan is key to the safety of your family during a disaster, and that plan should always include your pets.

Interviewer: And when you say pets, can you name some of the pets that we keep in mind for this?

Haisley: Oh, generally we’re talking about our pets that live with us in our homes: Dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, so on and so forth.         

Interviewer: So what are some of the disasters that we might face?

Haisley: Depending on where you live, you could face any type of disaster, whether it be a natural disaster like a hurricane, or an earthquake, a flood, so on and so forth. Or we could have a biohazard disaster as well. So we should be prepared for any type of disaster. And the key to your preparedness is to first and foremost understand what the current disaster plan is within your community.

Interviewer: Okay, what’s the most important thing you think we need to know when we are preparing our pets for these disasters?

Haisley: Well, you should obviously know what your community’s plan is. So if you don’t know, then contact your emergency management and identify what they have in place for both you, your family and your pets. And the other key is to be prepared and have an emergency kit for your pets. And in that kit it should include a three-day supply of food and drinking water as well as bowls, cat litter, a container to be used as a litter box, current photos and descriptions of your pets, up-to-date identification, including an additional tag with a phone number of someone out of the area in the event that your pet becomes lost. Obviously, your number as well, medications, medical records and a first aid kit stored in a waterproof container, sturdy leashes, harness and carriers to transport your pet safely, as well as a blanket or towel to keep them warm. Carriers should be large enough to comfortably house your pet for several hours — if not days. Most of the supplies in your emergency kit should be non-perishable. You should check the kit every six months to be sure medications, food, water are still good.

Interviewer: That’s interesting. And what’s a good kind of container to store for instance their (pet) food in?

Haisley: The container should always be a watertight plastic storage container that you can generally buy in any supermarket.

Interviewer: You recommend switching it over every six months?

Haisley: At least every six months.

Interviewer: So how can we keep our pets calm during disasters? Do you have any tips for that?

Haisley: Well, I think it’s important to understand your plan and practice your plan with your pet. Identify a spot in your house that you would use to shelter in place or protect yourself from the elements. This would often be the closet or a basement. Take your pet into this area and offer them treats, making it a positive and safe place for your pets. Also, ensure your pets are comfortable riding in the car and spending time in their kennels. It could be long periods of time. If your pet is especially nervous, you should coordinate with your veterinarian ahead of time about any calming medications that may be administered at the time of such an event or disaster.

Interviewer: If we are told to evacuate, what becomes of our pets? What if the evacuation center doesn’t accept pets?

Haisley: Well that’s why it’s important to understand your plan ahead of time. In October of 2006, the president of the United States signed the PETS Act, which allows for any community to put a pet evacuation plan in place and get reimbursement for doing so. And I haven’t seen a community not use it since it’s been enacted, But it’s important to understand that it is in place for your, for your own community.

You’ll also want to identify where the receiving centers are, and in those receiving centers for humans do they have a pet-friendly shelter attached to the shelter. It is important that you reach out to your local emergency contacts before disaster to make sure that the entire area allows pets. You should leave your pet behind only as an absolute last resort.

Interviewer: How do you find centers that accept pets? What should the first phone call be?

Haisley: The first phone call should (be placed) prior to any disaster, and that should be to your emergency management to identify what areas they would be utilizing as their staging areas, as their emergency shelters. And will they have a co-located shelter attached to that? And if not, where would be the animal-receiving center? If you don’t have that information prior to the event, that information should be broadcasted on the radio, shortly after the disaster occurs.

Interviewer: An animal-receiving center. That would be something similar to a shelter for people, but it would be a shelter for animals?

Haisley: Meaning it would be a shelter for animals that’s not co-located with the human shelter.

The ideal situation is that your community (has) in place a co-located animal shelter right near the shelter for humans, so that you can care for your own pet just you know within feet if not blocks away.

If that’s not the case, then you would identify where to drop them off while you’re on your way out and then go to the the human shelters or wherever your destination would be.

Interviewer: So what happens if a disaster strikes while say we’re at school or at work, and we can’t get to our pets?

Haisley: Well that’s where your disaster plan comes into play. You should make a plan with a trusted neighbor or relative who can always access your home and remove your animals if a disaster strikes when you are away.

Interviewer: What happens if you get separated from your pets during a disaster? How can we find them afterwards? I know that happened a lot during Hurricane Katrina. A lot of people were separated from their pets.

Haisley: Well that’s a great question. That’s why you always want to have your animal tagged, have a collar and all of your contact information on that collar as well as microchipped. Because even if they lose that collar, there still will be a way to identify who owns that animal and where they live.

Interviewer: Do you recommend microchipping?

Haisley: We very much recommend microchipping. Again, in the event that your animal loses its’ collar or tag, or it’s an animal that can’t wear a collar or tag, at least they can be identified through the microchip. And any receiving shelter in a disaster situation is going to have a scanner available, and a protocol in place that they do microchip scan each animal that comes through there.

Interviewer: Just for listeners who might not be familiar with the microchip, could you just briefly explain what that is?

Haisley: It’s a very small chip about the size of a grain of rice that’s inserted between the shoulder blades and the “subcu” of your pet’s skin. It’s become very standard practice, most shelters can do it, most veterinary hospitals do it. You might want to check around first to see whose got the best price in town. It’s typically not very expensive.

Interviewer: And it’s a painless procedure for the pet?

Haisley: Well I don’t think any prick is entirely painless, but it’s not an invasive procedure at all. It is a one-time injection in the subcu area of your pets skin.

Interviewer: So that sounds like something that people should consider doing if they haven’t done it?

Haisley: Absolutely highly recommend that they do. It is part of the preparation plan.

Interviewer: And then after a disaster, what behaviors might our pets exhibit?

Haisley: Every situation is different. And if you are staying at a large co-habitated shelter, your pet may be anxious and withdrawn or show aggressive behavior. If you are not allowed to return to your home with your pet, be sure to monitor him or her daily and closely. Don’t let your pet outside unattended or allow them to drink or eat anything found outside as many contaminated substances are released during disasters. Your pet or pets may be very anxious during this time, so take extra precautions to do, to be sure that they do not get loose.

Interviewer: You just want to make that sure they don’t pick up anything off the ground because it might be contaminated?

Haisley: You’re absolutely, you want to control everything that they consume.

Interviewer: Do certain kinds or breeds of pets do better than others during disasters? Say do dogs do better than cats or vice versa? Or do you see any differences in animals?

Haisley: I think all animals are individuals and some have different temperaments. Typically cats obviously do not respond well to water, so if we’re talking about a flood situation...they’re much more difficult for the rescuer to get the animal. Whereas the dogs are usually desperate to see us, the cat may be a little more fearful. The point we want to make here is we want to avoid the situation where your animal is in that stressful environment. And if you deliver your animal to an emergency shelter, that animal is going to feel that much more confident knowing this, that this is a safe place, opposed to them being left behind to fen for themselves.

Interviewer: When we leave our pets at home during the day and we go to work or go to school and there’s nobody at home, what can we do to ensure that they will be safe in the event that a fire breaks out in our home and we’re not there for such an emergency?

Haisley: Well again, I think the way you would prepare for a localized disaster within your home is the same way you prepare for a major disaster in the event that you’re not home: You’ve pre-identified a neighbor or a family member or friend who can be notified that there is such a disaster in your home or such an emergency at your home, and they can respond to care for your animal. Obviously if your house is on fire the only people that are going to be going into your house is going to be the fire department. And one way you can notify them is by posting one of those stickers on your front door telling them how many animals you have inside and what breeds and types they are.

Interviewer: Is there anything else you want to add, Scotlund?

Haisley: I think the PETS Act is the main point here. Because of Hurricane Katrina, and the disaster that occurred post Katrina, the PETS Act was enacted and it works, and it saves lives, and it has proven to save hundreds of thousands of lives since Hurricane Katrina. So understand it, how it works in your community, how it’s applied in your community and utilize it.

Interviewer: For further information, go to www.humanesociety.org and click on the links to find information about disasters and preparedness.

Narrator: Thank you for tuning into today’s episode on pets and disasters. For more information about this topic, visit www.humanesociety.org. For more information about the American Public Health Association’s Get Ready campaign, visit www.getreadyforflu.org.

Interview conducted February 2010 by Teddi Dineley Johnson, The Nation’s Health, APHA

To learn more about APHA’s Get Ready campaign, visit www.getreadyforflu.org

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