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Include pet needs in disaster preparations

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6D
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 12:31 am

Disaster preparedness is so easy to let slide. We get all worked up after something like Hurricane Sandy and decide it's time to "do something." We read up, we make plans, we stock up, we move on. And then, we forget.

We take the can opener out of the emergency kit and don't replace it. We use the food and water we've stored, but we don't buy anything new to rotate into the disaster supplies. We mean to, of course. And yes, we'll get to it … next month.

The good news is that in recent years, disaster experts have pushed people to prepare for their pets as well – a 180-degree change in attitude, driven by the risks people have taken with their own lives to protect their pets when disasters strike. And public planning for disaster relief includes temporary housing for pets.

The bad news? Most people aren't as ready. But it's not hard to start, and step one is checking your pet's ID.

Most animals will survive a disaster, but many never see their families again because there's no way to determine which pet belongs to which family if pets and people get separated. That's why dogs and cats should always wear updated identification tags, and preferably be microchipped, too. Take some clear, sharp pictures of your pet as well, to help with any search.

What next? Get a big storage bin with a lid and handles to prepare a disaster kit for your pet.

Then it's time to shop. Keep several days' worth of drinking water and pet food as well as any necessary medicines, rotating the stock regularly. For canned goods, don't forget to pack a can opener and a spoon. Lay in a supply of empty plastic bags, along with paper towels, both for cleaning up messes and for sealing them away until they can be safely tossed. For cats, pack a bag of litter and some disposable litter trays.

Hard-sided crates and carriers are among the most important items to have on hand. Sturdy crates keep pets of all kinds safe while increasing their housing options. Crated pets may be allowed in hotel rooms that are normally off-limits to pets, or can be left in a pinch with veterinarians or shelters that are already full, since the animals come with rooms of their own.

Leashes for dogs and harnesses and leashes for cats are important, too, because frightened animals can be difficult to control. Pack a soft muzzle for each pet to keep everyone safe if a frightened or injured pet starts lashing out in fear or self-defense. And finally, put a first-aid kit in the bin, along with a book on how to treat pet injuries.

Make a note on the calendar to check on supplies and rotate food and water a couple of times a year. You may never have to pull out your disaster kit, but it's always good to be prepared.

For more guidelines, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has tips for pet owners at Ready.gov/ animals.

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