By Megan Linski
In today’s world, it’s not uncommon for the average individual to prepare for disaster. Prepping a shelter, stockpiling food and water, creating a kit of emergency supplies and developing an evacuation plan are a few things you can do in case something goes wrong. Yet if a worse-case scenario happens, do you have a plan of action for your cat, dog, or other pets? If there’s an emergency, do you know what happens to your animals?
Pets, especially dogs, can be added to your survival plan in case of disaster. Pets are more aware than humans to dangerous situations, and can alert you of possible intruders before you become aware of it yourself. Besides security, pets can provide warmth in cold weather, and a sense of companionship. This is especially crucial for people who will be surviving alone, or who have children in need of comfort during stressful times. Dogs can be trained to hunt, providing food, and cats can keep disease-carrying rodents out of your shelter. Even horses can serve as means of transportation if your vehicle breaks down and cannot be repaired.
However, there are some cons to having pets with you in a survival situation. Food and water between you and your animals will have to be shared, at least, once your stocks of pet food for them has run out. Will you be able to spare your supplies with your animal? Pets, especially horses, can attract outsiders to your location, and with large animals, you may run out of supplies for them like hay rather quickly. Unless you have a continuous water source on the property, such as a well, you will be unable to take care of these large creatures, even for a few days.
The decision to take your pets with you in the event of an emergency is a decision that must be made now. You won’t have the time to waffle between the agonizing choice of leaving them behind or bringing them along in the heat of the moment.
If you make the decision to take your pet with you, they must be trained. In a survival situation, you will not have the energy to look for a pet if they wander off, or the time to train them if they continue to scare away wildlife in the area, which could be hunted for food.
If you choose to take your pet with you, they need to be able to evacuate quickly. You will not want to waste precious seconds chasing after a pet when you may only have minutes to leave your residence. Besides, common commands such as sit, stay, and lie down, your dog should respond to the phrases, “Get in the car!” or, “It’s time to go!” with evacuation. At these words, the dog should be at the door and ready to jump in the vehicle without question.
Your pet must come to you when you call. This is important not only for evacuation, but for survival, so your pet doesn’t put your or your family in danger by investigating something they shouldn’t.
Cats can be slightly more difficult, because they are elusive by nature. Cats can be readied for evacuation by training them with a bell or a clicker. To train your cat to come, always keep a bag of treats on hand, and crinkle the bag while ringing the bell or using the clicker and calling your cat’s name. When they come, reward them with a treat, and keep a carrier nearby. This way, when the time to evacuate comes, you can call your cat quickly and put them in the carrier within a matter of seconds.
Practice this often and keep training sessions short – five minutes or less – so this lesson sticks in your cat’s mind. If you’re having trouble training your cat to come, continue to reward the cat, and avoid punishing them, because cats will not respond to discipline and will therefore be inclined to avoid you when you call. Cats that are deaf can be trained to come with a penlight or hitting the floor in a rhythm that your cat can feel.
Avoid calling animals and then putting them through an unpleasant experience, such as giving them medicine or taking them to a vet. In these circumstances, it is best to seek the animal out yourself. If you call animals and punish them with something negative, they will avoid coming to you. This may cause them to avoid you at the moment you need them to come the most. Practice evacuating often with your pets, so they know what to do when and if the time comes to leave.
Most disaster shelters do not allow pets. Unless you have your own shelter prepared, it’s better to leave your pets behind. There should be enough pet food stockpiled for at least a year in your chosen evacuation shelter. Canned food will last longer than dried kibble, and take up less space. Dried kibble has the possibility of getting spoiled unless it is stored in a metal bin or airtight container. Have multiple food options for your pet in case one fails. Cats will need a litter box and a year’s worth of sand or kitty litter.
At the bare minimum, there should be at least a week’s supply of pet food and water marked specifically for your animal in your bugout vehicle as part of your emergency kit, as well as first aid supplies, vaccination records, proof of ownership, and at least one comfort item for your pet, such as a toy or a blanket.
Farm animals, such as horses, take much more prep work than dogs and cats, because they need a pasture or a barn to live in. Chickens give a steady supply of eggs, while bovines can provide a supply of milk and meat. However, unless you have a space pre-prepared for them at your place of escape, chances are you will be unable to sustain these animals for a long period of time (over a year or so). Unfortunately, you may have to make the painful decision to leave them behind. Evacuation of these animals is likely to take hours, and you will have to leave days before the initial disaster hits. Leaving the day of the crisis with these animals will not work, because the roads will be crowded and it will be nearly impossible to navigate a livestock trailer through them. Such planning isn’t always possible; information may come too late.
In a disaster, human lives must take precedence over the life of your pets. Always be ready to protect human life and your family over the life of your pets. But with a little planning and practice, the life of your animals friend can be preserved.