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How do you prepare for a storm to keep your dog safe during and after?
Recently in the Eastern United States, in particular parts of the country where I live, Hurricane Florence targeted the East Coast and delivered a menacing punch to this part of the country. There was a lot of humans panicking and some who I would say made some poor decisions regarding the storm. Let's talk about how you can keep your K9 friends safe during a major storm such as this.
Ahead of the Storm
Before the storm hits, get prepared ahead of time! Absolutely do not wait until the last minute in order to get supplies and things ready. While I'm not going into a great list of supplies to gather, ready.gov does provide a handy dandy checklist of things you might need. For your dog, a lot of these things can transfer over. Make sure you have enough dog food for them to last a couple of days, as well as clean drinking water. While your pooch might not need to same amount of water as you do per day, they will still need a considerable amount. If they take medications, make sure you have enough for a few days.
Ahead of Hurricane Florence, at least a million people were ordered to evacuate from their homes, as their homes were directly in the line of fire for the hurricane that was bearing down. You should always be aware of if your home usually floods or is in a floodplain. FEMA provides a floodplain lookup on their website which you can use to determine if your home is at risk of flooding. In a hurricane, flooding is a major concern after the wind has subsided, because flooding sticks around for days after.
Have An Evacuation Plan And Know What It Is
Know your evacuation plan, the weather reports, and what you are expected to get hit with. Listen to your local radio stations, news stations, newspapers, local authorities and safety personnel in order to get up to date news and information about the storm. In cases like this, having all of the information you can get is a vital activity to your safety as well as the safety and well-being of your dog.
Having an evacuation plan is so incredibly important. While you may wish to ride out the storm, know where you can go and what you can do just in case you do have to evacuate. Sometimes a strategic retreat is important for your own safety. Know ahead of time where you can head — be a friend, relative, shelter, etc. — that you can take your pooch without issue. This will prevent last minute scrambling and having to make decisions you might regret later.
Identify Your Dog
Make sure that you've taken precautions in order to properly identify your dog and that contact information is up to date. If your dog has a chip, make sure that your information is correct there as well. Your dog should have a well-fitting collar that has your name, their name, your contact number and address stamped into it. This is in case the event that you get separated from your dog, whoever happens to stumble upon them first has a way to get a hold of you.
Collars are also a well-known signal that your dog has an owner, and if you're not with them, you're looking for them. If your dog has a chip, you should put something indicating that on their collar as well. Although it's fairly standard procedure to check for chips on animals that have been recovered, having extra indication helps to make sure it gets done.
During the Storm — Riding it Out
Make Sure to Take Care of Potty Breaks
If you choose to stay and ride out the storm in your home for whatever reasons you may have, remember that your dogs are still going to need to go use the bathroom. You may be able to get away with purchasing puppy pads for the occasion (pictured right), or you might have to just deal with cleaning up the accidents in the house. Make sure that you take your dog's safety as a top concern.
Monitor conditions outside in order to plan for potty breaks. If your dog is like mine, she absolutely refuses to go outside if it's raining or the wind is blowing too much. While the impact wasn't as severe with Florence and she still went outside and did her business, when Hurricane Matthew rolled through in 2016, she held her bathroom business for three days, absolutely refusing to go outside.
Keep Up To Date and Remain Calm
Make sure to listen to the radio or tv if you have power in order to get up to date information about the storm. If the power goes out, you should save your cell phone battery. Either way, you should monitor conditions and make careful decisions about if you should continue to stay or flee.
If power does go out, your dog may become frightened or anxious about the situation. It's important to remain calm and try to calm your pooch down. When a dog is frightened or overly anxious, it could make a normally calm and docile dog act in ways that are not themselves, such as hostile behavior like biting or scratching. It's also important to try and remain calm and keep others in your house calm as well. Remember, dogs feed off your emotions. If you are in a state of panic, so too shall they be.
Service Animals to the Front
If your dog is a trained service animal, they should have their vest on during the storm as if they were out in public. For a lot of people, it's normal that when they have returned home with their service dog that they remove their vest. During a storm, however, you should leave it on them. For one, it helps to keep the working mentality for your dog and that everything is going to be okay. But for two and more importantly, if you do have to evacuate or otherwise, it will help to identify to rescue workers and first responders that your dog is a trained service dog and they will react accordingly.
And remember, if at any time you feel unsafe remaining in your home, you may need to evacuate.
During the Storm — Evacuating Ahead of Time
Know the Plan — Stick to the Plan
For over a million people in the Carolinas and Virginia, a mandatory evacuation was a reality of life that they had to face. Knowing your evac route and where you can go that will be safe for your pooch ahead of time is essential for not only your own safety, but that of your four-legged companion as well. Not all shelters will accept animals, and the ones that do will get full first. So, it may be that you have to seek shelter with a friend somewhere further inland which is deemed safer. You might also have to seek residence with a pet-friendly hotel who is nice enough to open your doors.
It's been my experience that ahead of a storm, many hotels offer a discounted or free rate for people fleeing ahead of the storm. But remember, just like with the shelters, these too fill up fast and first. Which is another reason that knowing your plan ahead of time is so critical for yourself and your pooch.
Take the time before the storm to pack your bag, as well as a survival kit for your furry sidekick. In this case, Ziploc baggies or even a food sealer are your best friends. Baggies are water proof if sealed correctly, which means your four-legged pal's food and treats will be safe in case you get a little wet. You should have enough portioned food for your dog to last at least a week if you are planning on evacuating. I would personally recommend just taking the whole bag of dog food with you, but Ziploc baggies are a lifesaver for this as well. You can portion a single meal in a sandwich bag and then a day's worth of meals in a larger bag.
Make sure to pack your dog's food, treats, and any medications they are required to take in a watertight, easily accessible location in your vehicle or travel kit. If you have a food vacuum sealer, these are amazing for portioning things out, and provide a watertight seal for things like dog food and treats. It also prevents critters from getting to it.
While it might not be the most comfortable for your dog, it may be best to travel with them in their crate, depending on if you have the space or not to do so. If your dog is smaller, it helps to make transportation easier, as when you get to where you're going, you can carry your dog and crate in one trip. It also prevents your dog from running off if you have to open their door for some reason. Remember that your dog is going to be scarred, so a comfort idea like a favorite blanket or toy in their crate could be a God-send.
Evacuating During the Storm
Stay Calm and Carry a Dog Under Each Arm
For whatever reason, you decided to stay and ride out the storm, and now you feel that your home is no longer as safe as you once thought it was. While you may be scared and unsure of what's going to happen and there's a lot going on, remember that your pooch is experiencing the same things that you are, possibly even more so. Dogs are able to sense when their person is upset, scared, or worried, which feeds into how they are feeling. So, if you are scared, so too is your four-legged copilot.
If you've read the rest of this article, I've previously mentioned that getting prepared ahead of time is absolutely essential to your own well-being as well as that of your doggo. Even if you think it will be safe to ride out the storm in your own home, having a plan ahead of time will save you a lot of headache and possibly heartache in the event that you do have to evacuate. For better or worse, your dog is a faithful and trusty companion for you. And while your relationship may be a small part of your life, you're everything to them. They're counting on you to make decisions for their well-being. (It's like having a human child, except they can't tell you what they think with the standard forms of communication.)
If you have the mindset that your dog is a human child, you'll be hopefully better equipped with the task of keeping them safe during an evac. If you wouldn't do it to a human child, you shouldn't do it to your dog. You should load your dog into your vehicle just like you would a human child, making sure they're strapped in and ready to go.
Knowing the Odds for a Left Behind Pooch
Official estimates indicate that close to a thousand animals — dogs, cats, horses, turtles, every kind of pet you can think of — were abandoned ahead of or during Hurricane Florence. These are scared, tired, hungry animals that were counting on their human for safety. It may have been a situation where they simply had no other choice, and the only way to save themselves was at the cost of leaving their animal friend behind.
If you absolutely have to leave your dog behind, which I would consider an absolute last resort, then you should know ahead of time you can only increase their chances of survival marginally. Dogs that have been domesticated and have spent their lives living with humans may not have the survival skills needed in order to keep themselves alive. You should make sure that they're unchained and uncrated, so that they can do whatever instincts they may have to do. Leaving them crated or chained up is in all likelihood a death sentence for them.
Coming Home After the Storm
After the storm has calmed, the waters have receded, and local officials have cleared you to return home, you should know that there will be a lot of damage from the storm. You should check out your residence for structural damage to make sure it's safe to enter. Before letting your dog roam free both inside of your house and outside in the yard, you should do a thorough walk over. You are looking for debris that could harm your dog, either through injury such as nails or injection such as polluted water.
If your dogs are used to roaming free inside of a fenced in area, make sure to inspect the entire fence line for damage from the storm. And while your doggy friend may be used to spending time outdoors with you while you do yard work, during the cleanup process, it may be best to let your pet stay indoors.
Other Types of Emergencies
While this article has mostly been based on the event of a Hurricane, most of what has been mentioned here can be applied to other natural disasters such as wildfires or flash flooding. Extreme cold weather such as ice storms or blizzards get an honorable mention here due to the added bonus condition of the cold weather.
Some dogs come specially equipped for cold weather, having an extra thick and fluffy coat for warmth. You might consider getting them booties for their feet, as extended periods of time in the cold can cause frostbite and other issues with their feet. You might also consider packing extra things for warmth such as blankets, propane, and things to start a fire with. If your dog is a smaller breed, such as the Chiweenie that I have, you may consider purchasing them a sweater or coat ahead of time.
For instance, my Chiweenie, Bella, has booties and a couple sweaters that she wears in the winter time for warmth. And while she doesn't spend that much time outdoors in the winter time, and we usually have milder climates, having to spend a lot of time out in it can become difficult and fast. The cold complicates things and makes it sticky very quickly.
The good news is that during such a storm, your best bet is to ride out the storm in your own home. It's usually more dangerous to leave during these types of storms than to stay put. If you lose power, you'll need things to keep warm such as blankets. If you have a fireplace, you can use that to start a fire to keep you and your pooch warm. Some games and activities by the fire might just be perfect for a little extra bonding time.
A storm or natural disaster is a scary thing for anyone, including your furry pal. Being prepared ahead of time is key to your safety and that of your doggo compadre.