Preparing for emergency situations is becoming a bit of a passion of mine, especially when it comes to pets, who are very often not prepared for. I’m lucky enough to be part of a community of veternary professionals and one of them was nice enough to allow me to publish this. -M
Guest Blog by Jodi Berls
It was 2008, and Hurricane Ike had just taken a chunk out of our roof. We had water damage to our home, no power, and no way to get in supplies. My husband and I had to make a quick decision – stay in the house and make the best of the situation, or hit the road with our dog, cat and parrot.
Traveling with animals often is an adventure, and it can be even more of a challenge if one or more of your pets is a bird or exotic animal. After my experience with Hurricane Ike, I became a real advocate of getting ready in advance. I’ve made “evacuation packs” for my animals every year as hurricane season approaches, and as our home menagerie has grown to include two more parrots and two pet rats, my collection of packs has grown in number, too.
This process doesn’t have to be expensive. I use kids’ school backpacks that I picked up at Walgreen’s for less than $10. Most of the contents of the packs are items I already had in the cupboards – food, cat litter, extra bird toys, treats, etc. Each pet has his/her own pack, labeled with his/her name and contact information for my husband and I, plus a utility pack that contains general supplies like paper towels, plastic bags, pet medical records and the first aid kit. Now that I’ve done the hard part – thinking it through – all I have to do is replace anything that may have gone out of date and store the bags in case of emergency.
So let me explain that process of thinking it through, because that’s the real heart of the matter. It basically involves asking yourself three questions:
First, where are you going? Regulations on exotic pets can vary greatly from one place to another. Some birds and reptiles can’t be transported across state lines; your ferret may not be required to have a rabies vaccination where you live, but that may not be the case at your destination. Make sure your pet will be welcome, or at least tolerated, when you get where you’re going.
Second, how will you transport your pet? For purposes of this discussion, I’m assuming you’re driving, which means you need a safe, appropriate carrier for your pet. Please don’t let this wait until the last minute – makeshift carriers like pillowcases or laundry baskets won’t provide your pet with the security and comfort you want for him. Ideally you want to obtain your carrier far enough in advance that you have an opportunity for your pet to get accustomed to being in it before the situation goes sideways.
I don’t recommend soft-‐sider or sherpa carriers for long-‐distance travel. They won’t provide any protection in a car crash, and it’s too easy for the animal to chew through the fabric or leather if he gets bored. Species-‐specific carriers such as travel cages for birds are ideal, but they can run as much as $200. You should think of the carrier as an investment in your pet’s health and safety, but you may be able to do just as much for a lot less money: For my pet rats, I bought a pair of inexpensive hamster habitats for about $30 each. Most small mammals and many birds will do just fine in an appropriately sized hard-‐plastic dog or cat carrier, available at most
pet stores and not outrageously priced. If you think your pet needs more padding, place a towel or other soft material in the carrier. Make sure the carrier doesn’t have holes in it large enough for your pet to squeeze out or small enough to trap a foot or toes.
Now, about what to put in your backpacks. For this, ask yourself this question: What will you do for your animal for the next few days, and what will you need to accomplish those tasks? I can’t really tell you what specifically you need to pack, because I don’t know your animal. Do you normally feed live foods to your bearded dragon, such as crickets or mealworms? What will you need to keep them alive while you travel? Will your guinea pig drink from a water bottle, or is he accustomed to having his water in a bowl? Does your pet need special bedding? Special lighting? These are the kinds of things you’ll need to consider when deciding what to pack.
As for how much to pack, many experts recommend planning to be out of your home about three days after a hurricane, but based on my experience with Ike, I think you need to be prepared to be on your own for a at least a week.
That said, no matter how large a vehicle you’re traveling in, you will have limited space. Stick to the essentials: At a minimum, you’ll need food, water, any necessary medications, bedding and anything you may need to restrain your pet if it becomes stressed out or, God forbid, injured or ill. For our menagerie, we always plan on taking a 24-‐pack of half-‐liter water bottles reserved just for the pets. Toys and treats may be good to relieve the animal’s stress, but don’t load up on them.
As an example, this is what I put in the pack for my Senegal parrot:
• A quart-‐sized plastic bag of Harrison’s Bird Food pellets.
• A smaller plastic bag of Nutriberry treats and nuts.
• A spare perch for his travel cage, and vet wrap to pad it for his arthritic little feet.
• Two medications that he gets a couple of times a week.
• A toy to replace the one that normally stays in his travel cage, and some parts to refill the toy.
• A towel for handling him if he decides to be uncooperative.
• Two extra food/water bowls.
In the end, we decided to stick it out at home, and we got lucky. The power was restored after a few days, and our house was livable, if not comfortable. But if the damage had been just a little bit worse, or the recovery had taken a little longer, we would have been forced to travel. Now I know the next time a hurricane threatens, we’ll be as ready as we can be.