If you have watched any news the past weeks, you have probably seen the video of Barbara Garcia explaining how she and her dog followed their emergency safety plan by sheltering in the bathroom of her house during the E5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma. She tells the story to a news reporter while searching through rubble that used to be her home for her dog who was still missing. Suddenly, movement is spotted, and the pup emerges from the rubble, and they are tearfully reunited. Another reporter, who found Abby the Dachshund but not her owner, took Abby into his home, and used television and twitter to find Abby’s owner. They were reunited right before Abby’s owner was due to have surgery for her tornado-caused wounds. According to her son, the reunion was the “best medicine” his mom could have.
While stories like this are heartwarming and uplifting, they should also be the catalyst for some somber reflection on our responsibilities as pet owners. As we have seen this past year with the tornados, ice waves, floods, wildfires, and super storms like Sandy, natural disasters hit hard and unexpectedly. And even if you don’t live in an area particularly prone to natural disasters, there are still plenty of man-made disasters (oil spills, fracking blowbacks, house fires) that can destabilize our daily life and destroy our homes. You may have an emergency plan in place, but do you have one for your pets?
The ASPCA has information and advice for making sure we have a plan to protect our pets in case of disaster. Their recommendations include arranging a safe haven (because many shelters don’t allow pets), readying an emergency supply kit to go with you in an evacuation, making a plan for an evacuation, and designating both temporary caregivers (in case you are injured) and a permanent caregiver (in case the worst happens). They also have a free Rescue Alert Sticker that gives your pet’s information to rescuers, or that can inform rescuers that your little ones are safely evacuated.
The American Humane Association posted that an estimated 14.5 million dogs were caught in the path of super storm Sandy. Hundreds of thousands of them were lost or left behind when families were forced to evacuate to shelters that will not take animals. While animals are pretty resilient and have latent survival instincts that can kick in, our pets are domesticated animals that are dependent on us for optimum care. They need and deserve our help.
The Humane Society has Disaster Animal Response Team training workshops across the nation. There are several online courses offered by FEMA and the American Red Cross that are specifically related to helping animals in times of disaster. You could learn to plan and manage an emergency animal shelter in your community.
There are other ways to help as well. Some communities maintain food cupboards for disaster response; making sure there is a stocked pet section would definitely help out in a disaster. Volunteering to be a temporary caregiver for a neighbor’s pet family is a good way to help proactively. After a disaster, keep an eye out for cats and dogs that may need your help in finding their family.
And if the videos of Barbara finding her pup and Abby finding her mommy have inspired you to want to help those pets on the plains, make sure to move your cursor over this paragraph for links to where you can direct your good will. You can send towels, paper towels, bleach, gloves, and crates to the The Central Oklahoma Humane Society to help them help lost and injured animals. If you want to donate online, you can designate your donation for the “OK Humane Disaster Relief Fund” with the hope of more happy OK reunions.
~ Jayne Burt-Ozyildirim for Doggy Bag to Go