Helping Your Pets Ride Out the Storm

By Diane Tait

Image courtesy flickr
Thankfully as I write this blog, I’m breathing a sigh of relief that Hurricane Dorian gave Jacksonville a wide berth.  That being said, hurricane season isn’t over yet.  That means another named storm could head this way within the next couple of months.  While I’ve covered what you need to do to prepare for the worst for both your home and business, the last area of concern for many is what to do with their pets.  Believe it or not, this can adversely affect the decision to evacuate, since many pet owners would rather shelter in place rather than have to risk being on the road in an emergency with their pets.  If you’re a pet owner who lives in Florida, you need to read this week’s blog.

      1.       Hurricane Katrina changed the rules – If you’ll remember the video footage that immediately followed Katrina, you’ll recall rescue personnel plucking not only people from their roofs, but stranded animals as well.  Some of the cats and dogs that were rescued were with their owners, while others had been abandoned to weather the storm on their own.  I remember one New Orleans native making like Noah as he went from flooded house to flooded house in his boat plucking stranded dogs and cats from the neighbor’s rooftops.  Even worse was the fate of more than 70,000 pets who died in area animal shelters after the water rose when the levees failed.  There was such an outcry after Katrina that 30 states enacted laws to expand the rules concerning pets for shelters and rescue personnel.  Both Florida and FEMA are now required to offer shelter to evacuees and their pets during a declared state of emergency. This also makes it more likely that the majority of people ordered to evacuated before a storm hits will heed the warning. During Katrina, only 56% of those living in New Orleans evacuated in time, while 44% chose to shelter in place.

Image courtesy PxHere
What do you need to bring when you evacuate with pets? – Just as you prepare a bugout bag for your family, if you have pets you need to pack enough provisions to last them for a week. This means packing food, pet meds, bowls, treats and a toy or two to keep your pets occupied. (Cat owners need to remember to bring the litter box.) You should also pack their vaccination certificates and make sure their ID tags are easy to spot along with your cellphone number. If you have a dog or cat crate, bring this as well.  Above all, if you have a dog, make sure you bring a leash and a muzzle, since you don’t know how they’ll handle being around other people and their pets.  Last but not least, make sure any pet not in a carrier is provided with a car restraint, since the last thing you want is to have your dog escape your vehicle when you pull over or go flying should you hit the brakes or run off the road during the storm.  
      3.      If you’re forced to leave any pets behindIf you’re unable to take all your pets with you during an evacuation, there are a few things you can do to make the situation less stressful for them.  If possible, have a neighbor take them or at least look in on them while you’re away.  Better still would be to take them to a Category-3 certified kennel.  Either way, make sure you leave them with enough water to last for at least a week and enough food to last for 3-days.  Put them in a windowless room with their bedding, litter box, and toys.  If you have a battery-powered LED light, leave this on for them so they won’t be stranded in the dark.  Speaking of being stranded, you need to leave your pet a way to escape any rising water.  This means making sure they have access to a bed, chair or table that they can climb atop if water gets into your home.  Regardless of whether the power has gone out in your home, turn off the breaker before you depart. 

Image courtesy flickr
      4.      On the road again – When you take your pets on the road with you during an evacuation, not only will you be stressed, so will they.  Animals can sense the stress of their owners.  That makes them every bit as jumpy during a road trip as the rest of the family.  This means you and your family need to make sure you bring some toys along to help your pets deal with the stress of a forced evacuation.  Since you’ll most likely be in stop and go traffic, be prepared to make pet pit stops from time to time to let them do their business. (Did you remember to pack plastic bags and the poop scoop?)  If you are lucky enough to secure a room at a pet-friendly hotel, wonderful.  If not, have you packed enough camping gear to enable your family and pets to shelter for the night?  There’s nothing worse than trying to sleep in your car.  Even if you pull over to grab a meal, you need to assign a family member to care for your pets, since leaving them in a locked car during or after a storm is a recipe for disaster.

      5.      What should you do if you lose your pet during an evacuation? – It’s not uncommon for a pet to become separated from its owner during a crisis.  The problem is if your dog or cat is picked up by animal control and there’s no obvious way to contact you, there’s a chance your pet may wind up euthanized.  The best way to prevent this from happening is to have your dog or cat chipped so your contact information is readily available.  Even better is to have a plate etched with your name and cellphone number that can be affixed to your pet’s collar.  This way it will be much easier to contact you should your pet get loose.  (This is also another reason to make sure your dog is always muzzled when you take it for a walk during an evacuation.)  Should your animal get loose, note the closest town so you can call the local animal shelter once the crisis has ended.  Taking a proactive approach is a much better way to resolve the issue than putting your family in jeopardy by searching the area yourself when you need to seek shelter.

      6.      If your family and your pets wind up in an emergency shelter – you will be required to show your pets vaccination records.  You will also be required to control your animals so they don’t present a danger to other people or their pets.  If your pet is considered to be a threat, it could wind up being placed under quarantine by the shelter’s animal control officer.   If that happens, don’t fret and don’t argue with the officer.  All that matters is that you and yours are safe until the crisis has ended.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on home owner’s insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.


  1. We dodged a bullet with Dorian. that's the good news. The bad news is hurricane season isn't over yet.

  2. Don't forget the extra treats.

  3. The news crew and most people forget to talk about how to protect your pets when storm threaten. your article is a big help to those who love pets.


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