By Gail Krueger
Don Sullens, a specialist with the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency, wanted to give his agency’s May hurricane evacuation exercises a realistic touch so he invited volunteers from Coastal Therapy Dogs, the Savannah Kennel Club and other pet owners to bring their animals to the Civic Center to play the role of evacuees with pets.
A new federal mandate means that communities like Chatham County will not only have to help those without other means of transportation get out of town in the face of a hurricane evacuation — they will have to help their pets, too.
That means registering, sorting and loading people without any other means of transportation and their beloved pets onto school buses for the long hot ride to emergency shelters in Augusta, where there will be an official shelter for pets of registered evacuees at the fairgrounds.
“We had no idea how it would go and we wanted to add some realism to the mix,” Sullens said.
The therapy dogs were asked to participate because they are temperament tested and have to meet specific health requirements to be registered; Sullens wanted some realism for the exercise but not the potential chaos of a bunch of unruly animals that could happen during the real thing.
Volunteers were given cards that described roles they were to play. Some had sick pets, some had impairments such as blindness, some had walkers or wheelchairs, and some had unusual “pretend” pets such has chickens, rabbits and pythons. There was a real iguana as a participant.
The volunteer dogs — from Great Pyrenees to Chihuahuas — from the dog organizations behaved well and the volunteer pet owners took their roles to heart. In doing so they gave Sullens a lot of feedback based on what could be, not on what was, during the drill.
Hints like do not expect all the pet owners who come to register for evacuation to have a leash and a collar for their dog let alone proof of rabies vaccination. And, yes, I have a crate for my well-behaved but scary looking Doberman, but it is too large to fit through the bus door. My sweet beagle is fine today, but during an actual evacuation event there may be rain and thunder and she snaps when freighted. No, I do not have a muzzle, aren’t you providing them.
CEMA has a lot to consider as the agency does a post-mortem on the exercise. And even this group of experienced, well-informed pet owners probably learned a thing or two about their own level of preparedness.
It all comes down to personal responsibility; no one is going to take care of your pet or your family but you. While CEMA, the Humane Society of Greater Savannah and area veterinarians make it easy to plan ahead with lots of useful and free information you still have to take responsibility for your pet in disaster preparation.
A newly published book, “Guide to Pet Safety: Saving the Entire Family,” by Richmond Hill author Cameron “Cami” Thumwood offers lots of tips, easy to use instructions and checklists to help you prepare. Thumwood operates the www.petalert911.com website and speaks about pet safety. She is offering the book to fire departments and animal welfare organizations at a wholesale price in order to help them raise funds for disaster supplies. But her main goal is to alert pet owners to be prepared.
The No. 1 tip in the event of an evacuation is simple: Do not leave your pets behind. Evacuate your pets with your family. Local boarding kennels will be closed and evacuated. The animals and staffs of both the Humane Society for Greater Savannah and Chatham County Animal Control will be among the first to evacuate. Both shelters will be closed. Do not plan to abandon any pets at either of these shelters.
• Make sure your pets are up to date on their vaccinations, particularly their rabies shots. Get a secure carrier for each of your companion animals. If you evacuate to a Red Cross arranged community shelter, you must have a carrier or crate: your pet will be housed in a separate designated shelter in its carrier during the stay. (The carrier must be large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around.) For larger animals, a collapsible crate is preferable as it will be easier to transport. If you do not have a create, the Humane Society’s popular thrift store often has used ones for sale and the proceeds help support the shelter pets.
Get your pets use to being crated. Putting your cat in a crate for the first time in the face of a hurricane is not going to be easy for you or the cat.
• Make sure each pet — yes, cats too — is wearing a well-fitted collar with attached tags imprinted with multiple contact information. Have a stout leash ready as well as a muzzle. Even the friendliest dog can become aggressive in a stressful situation and an evacuation or other disaster will be stressful.
• Microchip your pet if you have not already done so. The Humane Society of Greater Savannah has frequent low-cost micro-chip and vaccine clinics. Check their website for dates and details at www.humanesocietysav.org/events.
• Prepare a pet disaster kit. Things to include are food and water for several days; bowls; medicines; and extra flea control products
A bit of preparation now will keep your pet safe and give you peace of mind.
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