How to protect your dog and cat from Hurricane Dorian

Pet owners know one certainty: Our dogs and cats and other critters are members of the family.

If you’re staying at a secure home, or have decided to leave as Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida, emergency plans not only must focus on the traditional family unit but on the animals that depend on us for their safety. You wouldn’t leave your child behind to fend for themselves — and that applies to your pets.

Here are some tips on how to care for your pets before, during and after a storm:

Staying at home? Stay together

Of course, bring your pets inside well in advance of deteriorating weather conditions.

Scared cats and dogs will often seek nooks and crannies to hide in. This isn’t always a bad thing, but know your hidden spaces. If there are any potential hazards (motors, electrical outlets, sharp items, stored items that could prove poisonous), close off the spaces.

Better yet, keep your pets in their carrier and keep it near you as they will feel more secure. And so will you.

Put in some of their favorite toys or items that have your scent, like a shirt or something similarly soft and cuddly. Plus, if the worst should happen and you are forced to evacuate at a moment’s notice, it will be much easier to find your frightened pet and get a move on together without adding more stressful searching of the nooks and crannies.

Just as you would for yourself, identify a spot in your house as the safest zone — usually a room that isn’t near windows and can be closed off, like a bathroom. Stay together with your pets in that room.

Once you have decided on a course of action make sure you can initiate it without delay. If you have all of your supplies like food and flashlights and water handy and accessible in a blackout, the same goes for your pet supplies. Searching for items when the power is out and you don’t know which drawer or cupboard you stored them in beforehand is frustrating.

Evacuating? Stay together (if you can)

Check now with your regular vet to see if their hospital or office boards animals. Some do. But you would not be able to stay with your dog or cat.

Counties may open pet-friendly evacuation centers. Pets are otherwise not permitted at general population shelters and won’t be able to board buses bound for these shelters. Monitor your news media for updates and MiamiDade.Gov also updates its emergency status page.

These centers will accept dogs and cats as well as birds, ferrets, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, rats and rabbits (small-sized, under 10 pounds, such as California or Dutch breeds).

But there are rules. The pets have to be current with vaccinations (you’ll be asked for their medical records). You have to have proof of residency within an evacuation zone. You’re limited to four pets, and one of you must stay with your animal. Don’t forget their supplies. For more information call 311.

Other things to know:

Some hotels or motels will allow you to bring you pet but check first and ask if “no pet” policies are waived during emergencies. PetsWelcome.Com has a pet-friendly hotel search function. Type in your city for a list of hotels that welcome animals.

On the road? Keep your pets in their kennels so they aren’t free to move about your vehicle. Keep your animal’s collar and tags on it at all times. Update the tags if you have moved, changed your phone number or changed any other identifying information.

Stick to your plan. If you decide to leave, then do so. If you feel secure in your shuttered-home, stay. Be prepared. A constant change of plans can lead to stress, which your pet picks up on.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires state and local government agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that provide goods or services to the public to make reasonable modifications in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. Service animals fall under this general principle. Entities, such as hotels, that have a “no pets” policy, generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities, according to the ADA.

A service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The tasks must be directly related to the person’s disability. However, a pet that provides comfort by its mere presence doesn’t qualify.

Have an emergency kit

You have one, right? Your pet’s isn’t that much different. Match its food and water needs to your own. This means have enough of its regular food for two weeks — non-perishable. Good plan to have readily accessible can openers. A carrier. A litter box and fresh litter. Plastic bags. Medicine and medical records for your pet in waterproof containers. An extra leash. A litter scooper.

And make sure all of their essentials are in one easy-to-grab place, like a backpack, in case you have to evacuate in a hurry.

ID ’em. You know what your pet looks like, but in an emergency sometimes it’s hard to think straight when trying to describe the animal. Vets advise microchipping your pet to aid in recovery. Another good idea: Have a photo of your pet with you in case you get separated. This visual reference may help your neighbors spot your missing cat or dog.

Keep your cool

We realize hurricanes, especially ones as powerful as Dorian threatens to be, are terrifying. But if you panic, so will your pet and that will only add to the stress level for both of you. Try as best as you can to speak to your pet in a calm, soothing and reassuring voice.

Sources include Miami-Dade Animal Services and PetMD. The Florida Division of Emergency Management has pet plan tips, as well.

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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