Cat emergency disasters you may not want to think about are fires ravaging through your home, floodwaters rising past your window ledges, or your neighborhood reduced to a pile of earthquake or tornado rubble.
But ask any relief agency across the country, and they'll tell you that that's exactly what you should be doing: thinking ahead, putting together the resources to protect your family members in case of natural disasters.
This includes your cats because these events qualify as cat emergency disasters. Cats, with their territorial instincts and tendency to hide in the face of danger are especially vulnerable in cat emergency disasters.
When people don't plan ahead, they are scrambling when natural cat emergency disasters actually hit. United Animal Nation's Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) has a few thousand volunteers nationwide who are trained to help rescue and care for animals during natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods fires, or earthquakes.
When people and animals are evacuated from their homes, the Humane Society, and local animal shelters cooperate to reunite companion animals with their owners and to care for those who have been abandoned or have lost their bearings in a neighborhood where nothing is familiar.
Indoor cats are at a total disadvantage because they have no knowledge of the outside area. Make sure even your indoor cats have breakaway collars and identity tags that slip over their heads if the collars get caught on something.
Also remember that your phone number may no longer be in operation, so include an another number like your cell phone or a relative's number who lives of outside your area.
Micro-chipping is an alternate method of identifying your cat, and is especially recommended if your cat is likely to scratch off or lose its collar...particularly if he's an indoor cat. Most vets offer this service. The procedure takes about five minutes and is similar to administering a vaccine. It involves injection of a small capsule under the cat's skin between the shoulder blades. The microchip can then be read by animal rescue agencies. See Lost and found Cats for more information.
Having a good photograph of your cat can help. Keep some photos along with your important household and insurance papers, preferably in a water-and fireproof safe or container.
The photos should show any identifying or unusual markings to increase the chances of someone finding and reuniting you and your cat. Before placing them in the safe, store your pictures in a reseal-able plastic bag, because you may have to post them in heavy rain after cat emergency disasters.
DO NOT LEAVE PETS BEHIND!
Even if you're scared and your home is no longer a safe place to be, never leave your animals behind. Faced with cat emergency disasters, some cat owners think they can leave and return for their cats later. However, by the time you can return, roads are often blocked and your chances of rescuing your cat from a charred or collapsed house are minimized.
I have been haunted by an article written years ago in a Best Friends Animal Sanctuary publication in Kanab, Utah. It describes the fate of Sweetheart, a black cat who ran away during a 1996 earthquake, returning to her ravaged condo in Sylmar, to find her owners gone.
For three years, Sweetheart kept vigil on the steps of the now condemned building, enduring abuse and neglect. Even after a local newspaper columnist profiled Sweetheart's three year vigil, her owners did not return for her. Finally, Sweetheart was rescued by a responsible cat lover who gave her a new caring home. Don't let this be your furry friend's fate.
The preparations won't take much time if you do it before cat emergency disasters strike. Find out from your regular vet if they have cat emergency disasters plans. It not, which vet in the community does? Knowing in advance where to take an injured cat may save your pet's life.
Where is your local animal shelter, and what are its policies during disaster? Unfortunately, the Red Cross doesn't accept animals at their evacuation shelters except for seeing-eye dogs and recognized-service dogs. Know which motels in your area take pets, in case you have to evacuate. AAA and Fodor's publish books which include pet-friendly hotels and motels.
Try to create a buddy system in your neighborhood, in which you agree with another animal owner to care for each other's animals if either of you is away or hurt. Remember to give your vet a permission slip authorizing your neighbor to get emergency care for your cat.
In the case of a hurricane or fire, cats will often sense impending cat emergency disasters before you fully realize its impact. But rather than trying to contain a wriggling, upset cat in your arms, put your cat in a carrier the minute you know disaster is coming. Then, if evacuation becomes imminent, your cat is safe and you know where he is.
This means keeping a collapsible cat carrier in an accessible place at all times, not buried in a cluttered garage or basement. Your carrier can double as a temporary kitty home if you and your cat must be away from home for long. When it comes to cat carriers it's important that the carrier is lightweight and easy to clean and allows the cat some comfort and privacy to minimize stress during transportation.
Having 5 cats, I have a larger carrier that can hold 3 in an emergency and another smaller carrier that can hold 2. I also have a folding cart on wheels to pull the carriers on if absolutely needed. The cats will be stressed in this situation but they will be safer and my voice usually calms them in situations such as a thunderstorm.
However, while doing some research I came across an item recommended by United Animal Nations (EARS) called Evac-Saks. These were invented by a woman, Rebecca Rodriguez, in 1993 and were only available to shelters and animal rescue groups handling cat emergency disasters like Hurricane Katrina and 9-11 until 2007 when they became available to the public etc. and now the profits go back into non-profit animal rescue endeavors.
These are suggested for those that have more than one cat. They are pillowcase-like carriers with meshed material and secure drawstring tops. They can be hands-free because they have an added shoulder strap, there is a pouch for important pet papers, and there is a D-ring to clip on a water bottle or food container.
The Evac-Saks are easy to handle, and rather than making multiple trips to your car, you can carry two or three Evac-Saks over your shoulder or clutched together in your hand like a handful of grocery bags. Because they take up less space than traditional carriers, multiple units can also be stowed in the backseat of your car. One cat per sack is best but two kittens could be placed in just one sack.
Evac-Saks should be kept in a prominent spot in the house such as the closet where you keep your coat, that way you are prepared to evacuate your cats quickly. When I came across these Evac-Saks it made me ponder changing my system to that one...however, they may be discontinued now (2020). I couldn't find them but will keep looking and update here.
In the event of being in the path of a tsunami, with a bit of warning time it may save your cats if they are slung over yours and your partner's shoulders. It also appears like an easier method to evacuate from earthquakes and fires, tornadoes and hurricanes...the dreaded cat emergency disasters.
Prepare an emergency kit for each cat. Stock up NOW so you do not get caught unprepared. Store these items in an easy to grab container.
First Aid Kits don't differ a lot from the pet first aid kit you should already have in your home and may have bought from a pet store. United Animal Nations recommends the following items:
Consider ahead of time how you will get your cat to the car for that emergency veterinary trip once you have applied the temporary first aid. There are several immobilization stretchers, which work similarly to a human stretcher. Built of strong, easy-to-clean nylon and equipped with wheels and a pull strap, the stretcher enables you to either roll or lift your cat to safety.
If your cat has dislocated, injured, or even broken a limb, the stretcher's Velcro straps allow you to restrain him with minimum movement or distress. This stretcher is not available in most pet supply stores.
Keep extra supplies of required medications and food on hand and shoot for a two week supply. Although everything in your life may be topsy-turvy during cat emergency disasters, try to maintain your cat's regular feeding times and to feed him his usual food. If your cat has canned foods try to have flip-top cans available or at least have a manual can opener because if you are without power your electric can opener will be useless.
What if the worst happens and you have become separated from your cat? How can you go about finding your feline friend(s)? Within the first three days following cat emergency disasters , local radio and newspapers publish the places to look for lost animals. Once you discover the possible shelters in your area (you may have researched this in advance and have a head start), EARS suggests going in person to the shelters, rather than calling with a description of your cat.
Remember, your neighbors are probably in the same situation as you (worse if they haven't prepared like you may have) so calling in a description of a black cat is not very effective. There may be 25 black cats being sheltered. By visiting, you can identify your cat. Also, your description of a breed may be different from the shelter's.
Once you get to your first shelter, ask to fill out your lost animal report in triplicate or quadruplicate copies. You can then distribute the report and your cat's description to other facilities in the area without wasting valuable search time filling out the same information about where you last saw your cat, because cats ...unlike dogs ...will stay in their home territory, find a place amidst debris to hunker down, and stay there. So, it's likely that your cat is hiding somewhere quite close to home, even when the home is no longer there.
Animal rescue organizations like EARS visit debris-strewn neighborhoods with specialized trapping equipment to search for and rescue cats, even injured ones. So, patience, vigilance, and accurate descriptions of your cat distributed to as many places as possible can help in finding your cat. But most important of all, prepare for cat emergency disasters now, while you have the time and resources.
From animal rescue and humane societies across the country, the message is clear. If cat emergency disasters strike in your area, never leave your cats behind! "Grab that cat, put it in the carrier, and at least get it in your car" are the messages. We've domesticated them, but in a disaster situation, they can't unlatch doors and windows to escape, so they are our responsibility.