MISSOULA - As wildfires ravage Montana, the Humane Society of the United States is urging residents to prepare a disaster plan which includes their pets now. 

“Making a disaster plan is more essential than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic because some services may be limited and families may need to give extra consideration to their plans to align with social distancing recommendations,” said Diane Robinson, disaster services manager for the Humane Society of the United States. “Even amid the pandemic, it is imperative to heed evacuation orders from local officials and remember: If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets.”

Evacuating amid the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for families with animals, requires planning to ensure health and safety.  Emergency shelters may be limited and social distancing will likely be harder to maintain,  so if possible, identify family members and or friends in a safe location who can provide you and your pets a place to shelter in the event you need to evacuate.

Officials are urging people and animals to stay indoors due to poor air quality. Additionally, it is advisable to have a disaster kit for your pet ready in your home at all times so you are able to evacuate with your pets at a moment’s notice. Some items that should be included:

  1. Food and water for at least 5 days for each pet. Also bring bowls and a manual can opener if you are packing canned pet food.
  2. Medications for at least 5 days and all medical records, including vaccination history. Keep these stored in a waterproof container. You may also consider storing them digitally on a flash drive or online.
  3. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with tags for identification. Microchipping your pet is ideal as collars can be easily removed.
  4. Pack a pet first aid kit.
  5. Litter box with extra liter and a scoop.
  6. Sturdy leashes, harnesses and carriers to transport pets safely.
  7. Current photos of you with your pets and descriptions of your animals.
  8. Comfort items, which may include a pet bed or a special toy, to reduce stress.
  9. Written information about your pets feeding schedules, medical conditions and behavior issues along with the name and number of your veterinarian. This information can also be kept digitally.

Other useful items:

  • Masks
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic trash bags
  • Grooming items
  • Household bleach

Helpful tips for the safety of animals amid a disaster:

  1. If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pet. Never assume that you will be allowed to bring your pet to an emergency shelter. Before a disaster hits, call your local office of emergency management to verify that there will be shelters in your area that take people and their pets. Keep in mind that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency sheltering options may be limited. Have a list of hotels and motels that accept pets in a 100-mile radius of your home. Keep in mind that in a catastrophic event, local hotels will fill quickly and may not be available. Make arrangements with friends or relatives in advance to ensure that you and your pets are able to seek shelter in their home, if needed. If housing together is not an option, know the requirements of your kennel or veterinarian's office for pet boarding. And as a last resort, connect with your local animal shelter to determine if they will offer temporary boarding during the time of crisis. They may too be impacted by the disaster and unavailable to house animals.
  2. Have a plan in place for when you are out of town or cannot get home to your pet when a disaster strikes. Find a trusted neighbor, friend or family member and give them a spare key. Ensure that they know your pets feeding and medication schedule, and if using a pet sitting service, find out ahead of time if they will be able to help in the event of an emergency.
  3. If you stay home, do it safely. If your family and pets must wait out the crisis at home, identify a safe area of your home where you can all stay together. Close off or eliminate unsafe nooks and crannies where frightened cats may try to hide. Move dangerous items such as tools or toxic products that have been stored in the area. Bring your pets indoors as soon as local authorities say trouble is on the way. Keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers, and make sure they are wearing identification. 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. Listen to the radio periodically and do not come out until you know it's safe.
  4. If the electricity goes out. If you're forced to leave your home because you've lost electricity, take your pets with you.
  5. Include horses and farm animals in disaster preparedness plans. Individuals looking for assistance should call the county in which they are located and ask if they have an emergency shelter or location for animals. It is also advisable to call local animal control to flag the property so it is on the radar of emergency officials, and make sure all animals have access to fresh water.
    • If you have a horse or large animal at a boarding facility or barn, ensure the locks to the barn doors are operational and easily able to be opened in the event of an emergency.
      • Have trailers lined up and ensure that you have enough vehicles to move the amount of horses at your barn/facility.
      • In extreme danger with limited time, let your horse or large animal into a larger enclosed area that has been tamped down and is out of the line of fire. Ensure the safety of first response personnel by not allowing the horses to run free.
      • If you are evacuating, let your large animals out into a paddock or corral. Cut off their access to return to a barn or stall as they will naturally retreat back to where they are fed or cared for, even if the structure is on fire. Consider using non-toxic spray paint to spray paint your phone number on their body for easy reunification purposes.

Do everything you can to allow fleeing animals to pass through your property. Wild animals have strong fight or flight responses and are extremely resilient. The assistance/guidance of a professional wildlife rehabilitator is likely required if the animal requires assistance or intervention.

To learn more about keeping your pet safe in the event of a disaster, please visit our website. You can also find information related to COVID-19 and pets. Follow evacuation orders from your local emergency manager. Montana residents can find that information here and a full list of state emergency contacts can be found here.

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