May 11, 2009

Hurricane Season: Prepare the Entire Family

By Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Youth Development Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Hurricane season will be here before we know it and family preparations should have already started. Most 4-H families have animal members of the family. Children and animals are naturally mutual admirers and animals can teach children a multiple of life skills. One way to teach your children to be responsible, compassionate, and caring, is to encourage them to be a part of their pets’ hurricane plan.

There is more to preparing your pets for hurricane season and possible evacuation than filling a bin with pet food, litter, leashes and toys. There are steps to take that involve you and your family members – human and otherwise. Carol Lehtola, University of Florida Associate Professor and Extension Safety Specialist has created a list of suggestions you should consider now, before a hurricane is on its way. In Helping Four-Legged Friends Survive the Storm, Dr. Lehtola focuses on readiness before the storm and evacuation with your pets. Consider these points:

Take Responsibility - You can’t leave it to the experts to take care of your pets during emergencies. It’s the owner’s responsibility to make decisions about their animals’ welfare. Encourage your children to share their thoughts on hurricane preparation.

Decide on Pet Evacuation - One of the first decisions that you need to make in disaster planning is whether to take your animals with you or leave them behind. Many factors come into play when making this choice. Are you dealing with household pets or horses? Is there room where you’re going for the animals? How will you transport the animals?
Making Preparations for Your Dog - Developing your animal disaster plan before an emergency can save precious time when every second counts. Your preparations should include getting all your pet supplies together if you have advance warning of an impending storm. You also need to find a safe haven for both you and your pet. Make sure you have a travel crate or sturdy leash for your dog. A dog in a shelter or visiting in a home should be socialized. Take your dog with you for outings. An investment in obedience training will benefit the dog and your family, even if a storm doesn’t force you to evacuate.

Preparing Your Cat for Travel - Cats can present special challenges when evacuating. A cat will do better during a disaster if you have helped it be comfortable around people. Does being placed in the carrier only mean one thing to your cat? If a vet visit is associated with the carrier, try planning short excursions and reward the cat upon returning home. This way being in the carrier and in a vehicle does not always result in an unpleasant experience. Plan on having other family members come for the ride. Think of it as a hurricane drill.

Evacuating Your Pets - As you develop plans for your pets, consider creating an emergency kit. You should include pet food, bottled water, prescription medications and a first aid kit. Keeping your pet on a stable diet is critical while it’s experiencing stress, so be sure to bring a supply of the pet’s normal food. If you know that your pet is stressful during storms or travel, ask your vet for medications to relieve stress. A list of items to include in the kit can be found at:

Transporting Your Pets – Once you decide you will evacuate with your pets, consider how much room the animals, carriers or cages, and the rest of your family will take in your vehicle. Under normal conditions, the entire family will not be in one vehicle at one time. You may need more than one vehicle. Try a dry run with the empty carriers and the human members of the family to get an idea of what travel conditions would be like with everyone traveling together.

Finding a Place to Stay - Your shelter from the storm can range from boarding kennels to a friend’s house to hotels or motels. Be sure to check ahead of time and make reservations when the time comes. Several web sites list pet-friendly accommodations.

Hotels that accept pets in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi are listed at:

Information about traveling with your pets is available at:

Papers and ID, Please - No matter where you take your pets, you should make sure that their vaccinations are up to date. You also should always have your pets’ license and identification tag on them. Take a picture of you and the pet to help in identification and to help prove ownership. A microchip is an excellent identification tool that will stay with the pet, even if the collar is lost. Microchips have been used with mammals, birds, and reptiles.
In conclusion, take the responsibility to plan ahead for all your family members. Make it a family project to prepare emergency kits and check that supplies are in good condition and paperwork is up to date. We can’t control the direction of a storm, but we can prepare in the event one does come this way.

Pinellas County
Florida Disaster Handbook
Florida State Agricultural Response Team

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