When pets must evacuate

Times Staff Writers

DURING last week’s wildfire evacuations, fleeing families encountered conflicting advice about whether and when to take along the family pet. Some readers were horrified at reports that, under certain conditions, officials recommended leaving beloved pets at home.

To clarify: Should your family have to leave home for any disaster, be prepared to take the animals along. “Don’t leave them behind,” says Jennifer Phillips, director of Orange County Animal Care Services. “Take the pet with you. Show up at a shelter or anywhere. We will work it out.”

But don’t be surprised if disaster shelters set up for humans are not immediately able accommodate pets.


“What we try to do in each case is set up a partnership with the local Humane Society or animal control organization, so that pets can be sheltered very near where people are sheltered,” says Peter Teahen, a national spokesman for the Red Cross who has been in Southern California since the fires began. “We cannot bring animals into the human shelters due to health regulations.”

Disaster officials recommend that you put together an emergency preparedness plan specifically for your pets. Various organizations such as Homeland Security, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the American Red Cross recommend the following:

Prepare a pet emergency supply kit. In watertight containers, pack at least three days of food and water for each pet and include medicine and veterinary records, first aid kit, collars with ID tags, a harness or leash, a crate or a pet carrier, and sanitation supplies such as plastic bags, disinfectants and paper towels.

Preselect shelter sites and resources. Prepare a list of phone numbers of local animal shelters and hotels and motels that take pets. Include the names and numbers of friends or family who can temporarily care for the pets. Have a buddy system with a good neighbor who would be willing to check on your animals in case you’re not home.

At first warning of an evacuation, act quickly. Bring pets into the house so you don’t have to look for them if you must leave quickly. Try to call ahead to arrange emergency shelter for your pet. Make sure your dog or cat has current identification.

If pets must to be left behind, Phillips says, alert local animal control and, if necessary, give animal control officers permission -- and keys -- to enter your home to rescue the pets. “Under dire circumstances,” she says, “I would tell the officer to break a window to get access. My animals are important.”