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Make a pet disaster plan: 5 steps

Being prepared can make the difference between life and death for you and your family if a disaster strikes, and that goes for your pets, too.

No matter where you live, you should have a plan for what to do in case of an emergency and a disaster supply kit with basic things you and your family -- including your pets -- might need. Planning now for how you'll care for your pets in an emergency will save precious time later and help prevent heartbreaking losses.

"If it's not safe for you, it's not safe for your pets," says Wanda Merling, senior manager of the Humane Society of the United States' disaster-response program.

Awareness about pet disaster preparedness has grown in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Merling says. Unable to bring their pets to shelters or on evacuation buses, some Gulf Coast residents chose to stay in their homes or float on makeshift rafts with their animals. Many of them died with their pets.

Congress then passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, which requires local and state authorities to include pets in their disaster plans.

pet disaster planJust as your community is considering the welfare of animals in disasters, you should, too.

Take these five steps to prepare.

1. Make a pet disaster kit

Stock a container with supplies for your pet and make sure everyone in the family knows where it is.

"I keep everything in a crate for my dog. It's right there and ready to go," Merling says.

The kit should include:

  • Enough food and water for five days, a manual can opener and bowls for each pet. People need a gallon of water a day. Your pets probably won't need that much, but extra water will come in handy if you need to rinse them off.
  • Leashes and carriers.
  • Toys, treats and bedding for comfort. Remember, your pets will be scared.
  • Disposable litter boxes and litter for cats.
  • Medications and medical records with written feeding schedules and your veterinarian's name and phone number.
  • A picture of you and your pets. In case you get separated, a photo with you and your pets together will help with identification, Merling says.

2. Get IDs for your pets

Make sure your pets have up-to-date identification tags on their collars. The tags should include your pet's name, your cell phone number and any urgent medical information. Your pet's name and your name and contact information should also be written on the pet's carrier.

Animal welfare organizations also recommend microchipping your pets. A microchip containing contact information is implanted in your pet's shoulder area. Most animal shelters have scanners that can read the microchips.

3. Find a place to stay in advance

Not all emergency shelters accept pets, so investigate pet-friendly hotels and other options. Ask your veterinarian or local animal shelter about where you can take your pets outside of the immediate area in case of an emergency. If you live in hurricane-prone areas, investigate options 100 miles inland, Merling says. Ask about vaccination and other requirements, and make sure your pet's shots are up-to-date.

If you plan to stay with family or friends, talk to them about your pets.

"We oftentimes take for granted our family will welcome our pets as well," Merling says. "But make sure you have that conversation with them in advance."

4. Post a rescue alert sticker by your front door

The window decals let rescue workers know pets are inside the house in case you were unable to get home in an emergency. You can find the stickers at pet supply stores or order them online through the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If there's time, write "evacuated" across the sticker if you leave with your pets in an emergency.

5. Find a backup caretaker

Ask a friend who lives nearby to be a backup caretaker for your pets if you're unable to get home in an emergency. Give the friend a key to the house. Ideally the person should be someone who is usually at home when you're at work.

No matter where you live, emergencies can happen. These few simple steps could save your pets' lives.

"We all think it's not going to happen to us," Merling says. "Preparedness is such a key issue."

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