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Pets and Catastrophic Storms 
09/15/04 J.R. Rogers

Most of the time, I am writing about pets that have arthritis. This time, I would like to talk about pets and major storms. I am doing this because it happens that I live in Punta Gorda, Florida which was Ground Zero for Hurricane Charlie. 

In addition to the enormous impact this storm had on human beings, I witnessed another tragedy unfolding. Namely, that many pet owners had not made any plans for their pets in the event of a major storm and the consequences were terrible. 

Who is taking care of Fido or Fluffy?

Hurricanes and living in Florida are not the only issues here. There are many kinds of major storms and other weather-related events that can displace pets. The problem is that most of us are not prepared in advance and when that is the case, everyone pays the price. 

What I witnessed were individuals who were caught in an immediate problem and they had no answers. Most shelters will deny access to those who bring their pets along with them and there were some who refused to evacuate because they feared for the welfare of their pets. What you have there is a situation where someone may lose their life or that of their pet simply because they were caught unprepared. 

After this storm, I saw pets wandering the streets and they were confused, frightened and hungry. They had wandered from what had been their homes and did not know what to do. It was a very sad situation and it became even worse for home owners who returned after the storm to find their pets missing. 

Self-help measures

Depending on where you live and the kinds of storm activity that may be common to your area, the first line of defense is to have a safe place to put your pet where they might fend for themselves for a few days. I am talking about some kind of a secure shelter where you could put your pet in case you experience a major weather event. Of course, a pet may make it for quite some time without food but water is another issue. If you do nothing else with these kinds of temporary quarters, make sure that there is ample water. 

If you can put a temporary "quarters" together that would work on a moment's notice, it can become a lifesaver. Of course, it takes some commitment to doing something in anticipation of catastrophic weather that can strike quickly. It may not be perfect but it would give you some peace of mind and at the same time, provide a quick solution in the event that you need to use it. 

Hotels and Motels

If you live in an area that is prone to major weather conditions, make sure you know which hotels in your immediate or surrounding area accept pets. If you have a list and do have to evacuate your home, this is another option. Just having that list prepared gives you a jump on any situation that may develop. It sure beats trying to locate these places when you under a lot of pressure. In some situations, it is a good idea to have a statewide list. 

Medications

Of course, if your pet requires medications you should have an ample supply on hand for any contingency. If you have a home-built shelter, make sure you leave them there so if you have to rely on someone else to check on your pet they will have them handy. 

Finding a lost pet after a storm

Of course, there is no way to guarantee that a pet will not become lost when catastrophic weather strikes. It happens and there is no way around it. Fortunately, there are some resources available that may assist you. It goes without saying that your pet should always have some kind of an identification tag. That is particularly so for situations like catastrophic storms. 

Of course, when pets go missing after a storm "ads" begin appearing in the local newspaper. That is one approach but hardly the best. It is at least one step that you can take. Also, there is a website that may be able to assist you if you live in the Continental United States. (http://www.missingpets.com) This is a terrific non-profit site that lists resources in all states to try to locate a pet that may go missing. 

I apologize for departing from our normal routine about talking about your pet's arthritis. I just felt that this was a subject that we all tend to ignore until it is too late. Having just been through this tragedy, I thought it might get some of you to consider these things before you get caught up in something like this. 

In addition, if you are a Florida resident there is a website that has a list of pet-friendly shelters available in the state. http://www.floridapets.net.