by Merrie Garner
Most animal owners consider their pets to be family members. During and after an emergency or disaster, the conditions that affect you will also affect your pets. So, what is good for you is usually also what is best for your animals. While many Carbon Valley residents opt for dog and cat companions, some prefer small animals, such as hamsters, or exotic pets, such as reptiles. The information provided below applies to all pets, but additional resources for more specific information are included at the conclusion of the article.
Planning for animals in a disaster
Include your pets in your evacuation and shelter-in-place plans. If you need to evacuate, try to take your pets with you. It helps to familiarize your pets with being transported in a crate or other transportation arrangements ahead of time.
Be sure to assemble disaster supplies for your pet, as you would for yourself. Include a few days’ worth of food, water, medication, records, an extra leash and/or harness, litter box or pet waste disposal supplies, and grooming items in case your pet needs to be cleaned up. It may also be useful to write down information with your pet’s name and behavior patterns, issues, or needs if you need to leave him or her with someone else after a disaster.
If possible, identify shelter arrangements before an emergency. Sometimes if an emergency shelter opens for the public, there is a co-located animal shelter. However, if this option is not available, know where you can take your pets; talk to friends and family members, and learn whether shelters, kennels, or veterinarians could take care of your pets during an emergency. A trusted relative, friend, or neighbor may be able to care for your pet if you are away from home during an emergency. Show them how to care for your pet ahead of time. Keep your pet(s)’ vaccinations current and keep the records in your “go kit” (items you should have ready in case you need to evacuate quickly). Most veterinarians and boarding facilities require proof of vaccinations to admit your pet.
Sometimes pets get separated from their family during a disaster. Be prepared for this by taking and printing pictures of your pet with you and your family. After a large disaster, local and volunteer agencies often help with reuniting pets with their families. Good pictures can help to ensure you find each other and provide proof of ownership. Also, make sure your pet has identification and is micro-chipped.
About service animals in a public shelter
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees service animals, currently defined as a dog (with a specific provision that also covers a miniature horse) that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, may remain with their owners in any public accommodation, such as a shelter set up during a disaster. The ADA does not ensure other aspects of caring for service animals during disasters. If you own a service animal, prepare to provide food and water during an emergency when the animal is going to stay with you.
An emotional support, comfort, or therapy animal is not considered a service animal under the ADA. These animals can provide companionship, ease loneliness, and help with depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of mental illness. While these supports are important, these animals do not receive special training to perform these tasks, and therefore may not be allowed at a public emergency shelter. For people who rely on these animals, it is best to arrange to shelter with friends or family outside the area and evacuate as early as possible before the consequences of the disaster happen.
Caring for livestock in a disaster
While many of our subdivisions in the Carbon Valley only allow chickens or possibly a pig as pets, we are still a partly rural community. Many people may also keep non-commercial livestock at their homes, including horses, donkeys, goats, llamas, alpacas, sheep, and poultry. We want to keep all our animals safe during and after a disaster.
Always keep a two-week supply of feed on hand, especially during the winter, and plan for an alternate source for watering livestock, such as a cistern or large holding tank, or a generator that can run a well when power or water is disrupted. Many automatic watering systems will not run without electricity.
A plan to evacuate and shelter your large and small livestock is essential in protecting both people and animals. Local and state emergency planners will identify shelter for large animals during an emergency and communicate this information as it is available. Often, the county fairgrounds are used for this purpose, but they may not have adequate room or are inaccessible from your location during a disaster. If you can, make other arrangements in advance.
If you have horses or other livestock that you plan to transport in trailers, teach them to load ahead of time. You should also determine evacuation destinations and ensure the facilities have access to food, water, veterinary care, and handling equipment. You might want to work out a way to share resources with your neighbors during an emergency. Make sure you have adequate equipment, such as halters, for each of your animals.
Like with our household pets, having livestock identification, such as photographs, brand inspection, registration papers, and microchip numbers, is the best way to ensure you are reunited with your animals should you be separated from them. Keep copies of these documents with someone outside the area or electronically on cloud-based or portable storage devices.
If you are not at home and someone else must evacuate your animals, post the number and types of animals in your barn area. (It is imperative to keep this information up to date!) Include the location of your animal disaster supplies and your emergency contact information.
If evacuation is not possible, you may have to decide whether to shelter your animals or turn them out. This decision will always be based on the type of disaster, the availability and location of shelter, and the risks associated with turning your animals out or leaving them where they are.
Be sure to practice good fire safety by keeping a fire extinguisher in your barn area and providing for fire mitigation and defensible space in and around corrals, pastures, and outbuildings. Finally, you can learn about biosecurity and adopt practices that prevent the introduction or spread of disease amongst livestock. For more information, visit www.colorado.gov/aganimals.
Wildlife in Disasters
Living in Colorado often goes together with a love of the outdoors and respect for wildlife that shares our living environment. Disaster can intensify the unpredictable nature of wild animals. To protect yourself, exercise caution around wild animals.
Some wild animals, like snakes, raccoons, and opossums, have been known to seek refuge in homes or barns during a disaster and remain there after the threat is gone. This behavior is particularly common in floods. If this happens, try to open an escape route, and the animal will probably leave on its own. Also, be sure to secure food supplies in animal-resistant containers to keep displaced vermin out after a disaster.
If you see an injured or stranded animal, contact the local animal control agency through Weld County Communications at (970) 350-9600 or the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Denver headquarters at (303) 297-1192 for additional assistance.
Planning now for your animals in a disaster or large-scale emergency will reduce your stress and worry when you need to make quick decisions. Moreover, your pets and animals rely on you every day and will depend even more on you for their safety and well-being when conditions are dangerous or difficult. Preparing ahead of time is the best way to make sure your whole family will be ready and resilient when disaster strikes. For further information, visit The Humane Society of the United States, Ready.gov, and The Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Merrie was hired in 2019 as the first Carbon Valley Emergency Management Coordinator to establish the Carbon Valley Emergency Management Agency. Merrie is a fourth-generation Colorado native with 14 years of emergency management experience. She has been a resident of Frederick since 2006, and is thrilled to be working in the community she calls home.