No matter where you live in the world, more than likely you will be faced with a natural disaster. From earthquakes to blizzards to tornados, there aren't many places that are exempt from the possibility of a catastrophe. Therefore, it is imperative that you are prepared. In many places around the world, hurricane safety is of the utmost importance. Knowing what to do when appropriate can legitimately be the difference between life and death for your four-legged friend. Understanding what to expect and making sure you’re prepared are two ways to have control and the situation that is uncontrollable. In this article, we will discuss just how pet parents can make sure that they are doing all they can to keep Fido safe during the hurricane.
What is a Hurricane
Let’s start with the basics.
A hurricane is a type of storm collar tropical cyclone. It forms over tropical or subtropical waters. Hurricanes can be giant spiraling storms that can pack wind speeds over 160 miles an hour. They are capable of substantial damage.
The word hurricane comes from the Spanish using the word "huracán" centuries ago to describe the storm that would sink their ships into the Caribbean. It’s an indigenous word for evil spirits and weather gods.
Today, the word "hurricane" is one of three names that describe a rotating tropical storm with winds of at least 74 miles an hour. Hurricanes develop over the Atlantic or eastern Pacific oceans. Cyclones form over the Bay of Bengal and the northern Indian ocean. And typhoons develop in the western Pacific. Regardless of the specific name, the tropical storms can all be incredibly dangerous and destructive.
When is Hurricane Season
The strong winds and heavy rains of Atlantic Ocean’s hurricane season begin in mid-August and lasts until late October. Each hurricane season averages five to six hurricanes per year. With the potential to be affected by 6 hurricanes, the need for preparation is incredibly important.
Hurricane Safety Tips
So as a pet owner, how can you ensure that you are fully prepared and ready to protect Fido during a hurricane? We have some easy tips that can make a world of difference for both you and your four-legged family members.
Be prepared for worst case scenario! We know it may sound dramatic, but if you can prep for a catastrophe, then a low category hurricane will be a piece of cake. Make a plan before news breaks that your area is under a hurricane watch and well before a tropical storm begins to form. Make a plan today if you can. The last thing you want is to be scrambling at the last minute for something you could have had under control months prior. This includes preparing for power outages, ensuring you have plenty of drinking water, etc. More on that in a minute.
Stages of a Hurricane
Hurricanes don't just come out of nowhere. (This is good news!) It is important for pet owners to be aware of the stages of hurricane formation in order to devise their plan. For instance, when the storm reaches the level of tropical storm we will evacuate to the hotel we planned out. Of course, the plan of attack will differ from person to person, however, once you create the plan, stick to it. Don't change the plan at the last minute and above all, don't wait to make the plan in the first place.
The stages of a hurricane are as follows:
The beginning of a hurricane, having only a small circulation with no closed isobars around an area of low pressure. Typically, tropical disturbances exist in the tropical trade winds at any one time. They are often accompanied by clouds and precipitation.
A disturbance is upgraded to a tropical depression when sustained winds increase to at least 20 knots. Surface wind speeds vary between 20 and 34 knots. A tropical depression has at least one closed isobar that accompanies a drop-in pressure in the center of the storm.
A tropical depression is upgraded to a tropical storm when sustained wind speeds increase to at least 35 knots. Surface wind speeds will vary between 35 and 64 knots and the storm. Tropical storms often match the appearance of hurricanes because of the intensified circulation.
Tropical storms are nothing to shrug about. They can cause substantial damage.
A tropical storm becomes a hurricane when sustained wind speeds surpass 64 knots. A pronounced rotation develops around the central core as spiral rain bands rotate around the eye of the storm.
You will hear a lot of talk about the "eye of the storm." It is important to know that the heaviest precipitation and strongest winds correlate with the eye wall.
Additionally, there are ways to alert people that a hurricane is approaching such as a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning.
A hurricane watch is issued if it appears that a particular area is in potential danger of being hit by a hurricane. A hurricane watch can be issued several days prior to the hurricane's arrival.
The hurricane warning is issued when there is a high probability that a hurricane will hit an area within 24 hours.
Unfortunately, even with advanced technology and warning, hurricanes claim the lives of thousands of people every year.
Get a Rescue Alert Sticker
You may have seen rescue alert stickers on the front door of people's homes. This is a wonderful thing to have to be prepared for any sort of disaster. The easy to use sticker lets people know that your animals are inside. Be sure the sticker is visible. On the sticker, include what type of pet and the number of pets as well as the name and number of your veterinarian. If the time comes where you evacuate with your pet, and if time allows, write "EVACUATED” across the sticker. This way emergency rescue workers will know that the animals have been saved. You can order a rescue alert sticker here. Your local pet store may also sell similar stickers.
Hurricane Emergency Kit & Travel Supplies
Having an emergency kit and travel supplies ready to go is extremely important. Do not wait to prepare a kit and supplies.
Additionally, plan for the worst. Even if you think that you will be able to return in a day, there is no guarantee that the roads won't be shut down. In some cases, you may not be able to return for several weeks.
If you have ever been through a hurricane, do you know the lines that form around the local Costco and Walmart of people who waited to the last minute to buy something as simple as drinking water. Create your emergency hurricane kit now. Your dog's emergency kit will likely not be that much different than your own. In your kit include:
- Pet first-aid kit (ask your vet what to include in this)
- Enough bottled water for 7 days (not to share-- your dog needs 7 days' worth of water and so does every person evacuating)
- Non-perishable food (with a can opener if necessary)*
- Disposable litter trays (i.e. aluminum roasting pans)
- Paper towels
- Liquid dish soap
- Garbage bags for clean-up
- Food dishes and water bowls
- Extra collar/ harness and an extra leash
- USB and/or photocopies of all medical records
- 2 weeks' worth of medications in a waterproof container*
- *These items need to be switched out every 2 months so that they don't go bad and become unless
- A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
- Recent photos of your pets (in case you are unfortunately separated and need to make “Lost” posters)
Each member of the family should also have their own emergency evacuation kit. Items in the kit should include:
- Duct tape
- Battery-operated radio
- Permanent marker
- Spray paint
- Baby wipes
- Protective clothing and footwear
- Extra cash
- Rescue whistle
- Important phone numbers
- Extra medication
- Copies of medical and insurance information
Additionally, these other tips will make your evacuation process as calm as possible:
Make sure Fido wears their up-to-date emergency tags. Be sure that all of the information is accurate and current. Fido's tag should include their name, telephone number, and any urgent medical needs.
The ASPCA (along with us here at Honest Paws) highly recommend microchipping your pets as a more permanent form of identification. It is entirely possible for your dog's collar to get lost in the chaos and the last thing you want is to have to way to find them.
Dogs (and all pets) must be brought inside at the first warning of a storm. We don't have to tell you that dogs are incredibly sensitive creatures. Even the first signs of a storm are enough to cause anxiety and lead to them wandering away from home. By bringing them inside, you'll avoid an even bigger disaster from happening.
No Dog Left Behind
It is imperative to make a plan as to where Fido will be going if the time comes to evacuate. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS BEHIND! Leaving your pets behind should be an absolute last resort. It is entirely likely that Fido could get very hurt or killed, or at the very least escape and get lost.
Remember, not all human shelters accept pets.
- Ask your veterinarian for a list of boarding kennels and facilities
- Contact your local boarding shelter and ask if they provide emergency shelter for pets
- Have a list of hotels outside the area that accept pets in emergency situations
- Be sure to ask the boarding facilities and hotels what they require from the pet owner (i.e. proof of vaccinations, bring your own food, etc.)
- Contact friends/family outside the area and ask if they will take in your pet in an emergency situation
By planning ahead, you will be able to act accordingly if a hurricane evacuation is necessary.
Prepare for Anxious Behavior
We briefly touched on the fact that dogs are highly sensitive animals. Prepare for altered behavior due to anxiety. Sometimes the trauma of the storm can change the demeanor of your dog. Typically, friendly dogs can quickly become defensive or aggressive when they feel anxious. This anxious feeling can also cause dogs to get spooked and run. If you’ve ever seen a dog that spooked, it seems as though they could run for days. This is a recipe for disaster. Keep your dog close and stay as calm as possible to avoid your dog running off when the hurricane comes.
This leads us to the importance of the pet owner staying calm. Dogs sense their owner’s energy. If you are running around in a state of panic, your dog will likely follow suit. This is why it’s so important to be prepared and plan ahead. If you live in a region where hurricanes are frequent during hurricane season, there is no excuse to not have a game plan.
Other Factors to Consider
Additionally, we want to mention that with hurricanes it is very common for other animals to get displaced. Wild animals, including snakes and alligators, have ended up in the most unlikely places, i.e. your pool. Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. When taking your dog out for a walk after the hurricane passes, keep them on a leash. You never know what might be terrified in a bush. Not to mention, there will likely be downed power lines down that could be live, glass from shattered windows, etc. Keep your dog close until the areas are deemed safe again.
Listen to the Experts
Look, we understand that leaving home can be terrifying in terms of having to evacuate before a natural disaster hits. However, we encourage our readers to listen to the experts. Stay tuned to the national hurricane center. If your area is told to evacuate, listen. Do not wait for the evacuation to become mandatory and life-threatening. Follow all hurricane safety procedures that you are told. Hurricane-force winds are no joke. An early evacuation can be the difference between life and death in some circumstances.
Staying In - What To Do
If you do not have to evacuate (or if you choose not to evacuate- we don't recommend this), there are still a number of things to consider.
Hurricane-force winds have the ability to knock down trees that have been standing for 100 years. Prior to hurricane season, pet owner should make sure that the trees surrounding their home have been properly maintained in order to avoid the potential of having a branch or the tree itself fly into a window of the home. Also, window treatments such as storm shutters are incredibly important to make sure that you and your fur baby stay safe.
During the Hurricane
During the storm, flooding may occur. Pet owners should take all of the animals to the highest point in the home where the water is unable to reach. Your emergency kit should also be taken with you to the highest point of the home. Stay away from windows or other areas where foreign objects may be able to enter the home due to the high force winds.
Stay tuned in to news on whatever device is available. So long as you still have power, you can get minute to minute updates on your tv. If you lose power (you likely will at one point or another), keep up to date on your battery-operated radio.
Again, we cannot stress the importance of planning ahead. Regardless of whether or not you evacuate, having an emergency kit on hand is extremely important and could save a life.
After the Hurricane
Additionally, it is entirely possible that you may find yourself trapped in your home once the hurricane has passed. Streets will likely be shut down as rescue workers work to clear the downed power lines and trees that have fallen in the middle of the roads. For this reason, it is incredibly important to make sure that you have plenty of water and food to last up to a week, longer if possible.
As we previously mentioned, even after the hurricane has passed, keep Fido close. The dangers lurking are extremely real, whether it be a live power line, a frightened snake, or shattered glass. Keep your dog on a close leash and do your best to watch where they are walking. Even days after the hurricane has passed, workers will still be doing their past to clear the roads and keep the public safe, but it takes time. You may not regain power for a week (or longer). It is crucial to be prepared for any and all possibilities.
Keep the ASPCA On-Hand!
The ASPCA created a wonderful and free app that allows pet owners to see exactly what to do if a natural disaster hits. It also has a great feature that allows pet owners to store their pet's necessary medical information as well as provides information that can literally be life-changing when a natural disaster strikes.
By downloading the app you can:
- Access crucial advice on what to do with your pet before, during, and after a major storm (this feature works even if there’s no data connectivity)
- Upload and manage your pet’s important health records
- Get a personalized missing pet recovery kit (this includes step-by-step instructions on how to search for a lost pet in a variety of situations)
- Create a lost pet digital flyer that can be shared instantly on your social media
- Receive the latest and most relevant news about pets and animal welfare
We highly recommend downloading the ASPCA app and uploading all of their necessary medical information as a part of your hurricane preparations.
Learning from the Past
At 10 AM on August 28, 2005, former Mayor Ray Nagin announced an emergency evacuation of the city of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina was well on her way and wasn’t slowing down. Outbound traffic jammed all lanes of the highway is on both sides for days. Many people who were not prepared for the evacuation, had to leave the city without precious family heirlooms, medical records, and even their animals. Most everyone assumed that they would be back in a mere few days. However, when the hurricane hit on August 29, it breached 53 different levees and the damage was catastrophic. Many residents didn’t return for three weeks, only to leave again as hurricane Rita threaten to make landfall on the already weakened city.
The animals that didn’t die in the storm were left to defend themselves. When the Hurricane Katrina passed and the damage was uncovered, over 600,000 animals were either killed or stranded due to the storm. Today, so much of New Orleans looks as though it hasn’t been touched since 2005. Many abandoned Parts of New Orleans are now taken over by weeds, decay, and wild dogs abandoned in Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Safety: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, natural disasters are something that we must be prepared for. With hurricane season quickly approaching, the time to prepare is now. Do not wait until the last minute. Hurricane preparation is paramount in ensuring that not only you but also your fur baby remain safe in an otherwise unpredictable time.
Again, if you have any questions, call your local veterinarian. They will be able to provide a slew of information regarding kennels, safety kit must-haves, and how to prepare.