Melissa Duffy was driving away from her home in Carlsbad when she glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that the horizon was black with smoke. It was the Poinsettia fire, one of 11 fires raging in San Diego County just two weeks ago.
She went back, loaded up her three dogs and went to a friend’s house.
Fire season in the Western United States is beginning weeks earlier than usual this year, and the National Interagency Fire Center predicts above-normal fire hazards through August in much of the West.
If you live in a dry or drought-stricken area, be prepared to evacuate quickly with your pets. Duffy grabbed her dogs’ medications and food. One of her dogs is on a strict medical diet, and two require regular medication. She keeps a first-aid kit and leashes in the car.
Many people who live in areas prone to earthquakes, floods or fires keep a “go-bag” at hand. It should contain important documents, including copies of your pets’ vaccination records; a supply of food and water for at least two or three days (a week or more is better); medications for your pets and yourself; a change of clothes; and a favorite toy for your pet, to help him feel at home wherever you land.
Cat owners may want to have a disposable litter box and litter easily available if they need to grab and go.
Dog trainer Liz Palika, who lives in Southern California, has an extensive go-bag that she keeps right inside the garage door, so it can be reached even if her house collapses. It contains dog bowls, poop bags, camping gear, a first-aid kit, flashlight and batteries, a hand-cranked radio and truck keys. Store items in a large duffel bag, or even a large trash can if it will fit in your vehicle.
“Take photos with your smartphone of your prescriptions, pet prescriptions and pet shot records,” Palika said. Organize those on your phone into two files: yours and your pets’. Back them up on a memory card. Keep them on your phone, but put the memory card with your first-aid kit. When anything changes, update it.”
Know where you can go, and have more than one backup plan. Duffy was able to get back home from her friend’s house, but later woke up to sirens and the smell of smoke and had to leave again. “Our first two ‘go-to’ friends were also threatened, so we had to find somewhere else to go,” she says. “Four friends offered us their homes, and since we have three dogs, I would rather go there than to a hotel or shelter.”
Some disaster shelters now allow pets, but it’s not something you can count on. Keep a list of local pet-friendly hotels on your smartphone if you don’t have friends or relatives who can take in pets. And if all else fails, ask if a hotel will waive its “no pets” rule.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books.