Make sure your disaster strategy includes a safety plan for your pets

Roxy (A491713) has beautiful classic tortoiseshell markings with her striking two-color divided face. She’s the littlest one in her litter, but extremely feisty. She is the first to purr about anything. She’s available for adoption now. Courtesy photo

I should not be allowed to look at the news first thing in the morning. Whatever benefits I’ve derived from a restful sleep seem to be immediately replaced with angst and tension in my shoulders as soon as I look at the morning headlines.

Before I even got out of bed this morning, this was the headline that set the tone for the day:

“Deadly California Wildfires Scorch More Than One Million Acres With No End in Sight.”

Upon reading this, I slammed my phone down on the nightstand and pulled the covers over my head as if this action would somehow mysteriously teleport me into a different reality where wildfires aren’t a thing, and the only pandemic we have to worry about is bad fashion sense.

Alas, my attempt at teleporting was kiboshed because as it turns out, teleporting isn’t a thing.

One of the reasons this headline is so distressing to me is because I know it comes with a dangerous trend of folks leaving their pets behind in times of crisis or natural disasters. To be clear, I don’t believe anyone leaves their pet behind on purpose. But when disaster strikes, many are caught off guard and have to scramble.

The inconvenient fact is, we live in a state where earthquakes, severe heat waves, and wildfires are real annual threats – so there really is no excuse for us not to have a disaster plan that includes a safety plan for our pets.

Not sure where to start? Fear not, dear readers…I’m here to help! Here is a basic list to get your disaster preparedness plan started:

  • Proper Identification. Make sure that cats and dogs are wearing collars and identification tags that are up to date. You’ll increase your chances of being reunited with pets who get lost by having them microchipped; make sure the microchip registration is in your name. But remember: The average person who finds your pet won’t be able to scan for a chip, but they will probably be able to read a basic tag! Pro tip: Put your cell phone number on your pet’s tag.
  • If you evacuate, take your pet. I mean…duh. If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets. You have no way of knowing how long you’ll be kept out of the area, and you may not be able—or allowed—to go back for your pets. Remember to make plans for ALL your pets; during natural disasters, disaster plans for feral or outdoor cats, horses and animals on farms can be lifesavers.
  • Evacuate early. Don’t wait for a mandatory evacuation order. Some people who have waited to be evacuated by emergency officials have been told to leave their pets behind because by that time, they have to rush to get to safety. The smell of smoke or the sound of high winds or thunder may make your pet more fearful and difficult to load into a crate or carrier. Evacuating before conditions become severe will keep everyone safer and make the process less stressful.
  • Find a safe place to stay ahead of time. Never assume that you will be allowed to bring your pet to an emergency shelter or that shelters nearby will be able to accommodate everyone. Before a disaster hits, check the website of your local office of emergency management to see if you will be allowed to evacuate with your pets and verify that there will be shelters in your area that take people and their pets. Also be sure to review how they are managing social distancing needs.
  • Make arrangements with friends or relatives. Ask people outside your immediate area if they would be able to shelter you and your pets—or just your pets—if necessary. If you have more than one pet, you may need to arrange to house them at separate locations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made seeking alternate housing arrangements more complicated. Access to reliable testing is still patchy. That said, if you and the people you hope to shelter with are able to be tested, it may provide some protection in case you need to share a space. You should also try to practice social distancing within the space you’re sharing.

Plan for your pet in case you’re not home. In case you’re away during a disaster or evacuation order, make arrangements well in advance for someone you trust to take your pets and meet you at a specified location. Give your emergency caretaker a key to your home and show them where your pets are likely to be (especially if they hide when they’re nervous) and where your disaster supplies are kept.

Close off or eliminate unsafe nooks and crannies where frightened cats may try to hide. If you have a room you can designate as a “safe room,” put your emergency supplies in that room in advance, including your pet’s crate and supplies. Have any medications and a supply of pet food and water inside watertight containers, along with your other emergency supplies. If there is an open fireplace, vent, pet door or similar opening in the house, close it off with plastic sheeting and strong tape.

After the disaster, your home may be a very different place after the emergency is over, and it may be hard for your pets to adjust.

Don’t allow your pets to roam loose. Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone, and your pet will probably be disoriented. Pets can easily get lost in such situations. There could also be a lot of debris, such as roofing nails and broken glass, that could cause injuries. While you assess the damage, keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers inside the house. If your house is damaged, your pets could escape.

Natural disasters are reality of the world we live in – so having a plan is the best way to ensure your safety and the safety of your beloved pets. For additional tips, visit

Be safe out there, everyone!