This article is written specifically for equines, but all of the information contained can also be applied to any of your pets or those you are responsible for. Please read it carefully and begin your evacuation plan soon. These tips are designed to make the recovery/evacuation process easier because in a tragedy if you can limit your stress, you should do so.
Recently the House and Senate passed a measure that would require F.E.M.A to ask state and local authorities to consider implementing plans/programs that would provide evacuation programs for people with pets and service animals. This allows F.E.M.A to provide financial support to those governmental entities that provide for those contingencies. The bill was called the PAWS Act and was a result of pet owners who refused to leave their animals during Katrina and the response of Texas to its pet owning public during Rita. However, at the end of the day each pet owner is responsible for having an evacuation plan in place for his/her pets.
F.E.M.A provides information and online classes for pet owners and responders to learn how to prepare for emergencies and how to handle animals in emergencies. We highly recommend taking one of these courses and preparing for personal pets/animals in emergencies. One of the best things to remember is that when deciding to evacuate with horses the decision needs to be made early and you must be prepared. If you are a manager of an equine rescue, one of your top priorities should be to provide for the safety of the animals in your care. Hurricane, earthquake, flooding or hazardous contamination could effect you anywhere in this country and you should be prepared. Your rescue should have a plan in place that all of your staff is aware of, is familiar with and which can be enacted quickly. Once you have developed a plan, you should perform drills regularly to ensure that things run smoothly and make changes accordingly.
Whether you are a horse owner or rescue facility there are a few things that you need to do to make an evacuation go smoothly and protect the animals in your care. We can learn lessons from previous disasters and Katrina left a number of lessons in her wake of destruction. First, you need to be able to identify each animal. This is important also for protecting your animal from theft, but should you become separated from your animal(s) this makes it easier to reunite. After Katrina many well-meaning people attempted to “rescue” animals without reporting the animals they took from the scene. Some animals have never been found and others had multiple people claiming ownership. So, branding or microchipping your animal could make a reunion much easier.
Next, be sure you have a file(s) for your animals. Because this information is so important you may want to have two copies, one in your evacuation pack and another kept in a safety deposit box or other safe place. The copy that you take with you would be even better protected if kept in a plastic bag, so that it isn’t damaged by any weather conditions it may be exposed to. If you have multiple horses or are caring for rescued horses you may want to have a file for each animal. In the file you should have photos of the horse, recent shot records and a recent Coggins. You should also have your microchip/branding information in the file and a written description of your animal(s) other than just the description on your Coggins report. While some have more comprehensive descriptions than others, you may need to post a description somewhere or with some agency you have it ready and you aren’t doing it by memory in a stressed state.
Proof of a negative Coggins will be needed to take your horse home and a positive Coggins horse should be kept separate from any other equine for the equine population’s safety. (Please note that in some states a positive Coggins horse must be destroyed or sent to slaughter even though there is a great deal of controversy over the quality of life of a positive horse. So, if you have a positive Coggins horse you MUST make your own plans and implement them early to avoid intervention from governmental entities.) Making sure that your horse is protected from diseases that may be brought to a facility is very important; so be sure your horse’s shots are current. Some facilities will refuse to provide space for your animal, even in an emergency, if they do not have current vaccines. Remember that your vet’s office may not be able to provide the needed information in the event of an emergency, so it is your responsibility to ensure you have a copy of your horse’s records. The photos in your file should include multiple views of the horse and shots of any scars, brands or other markings. Hidden markings are the best identification, so if your horse has a scar hidden by its mane, a funny white mark near its hoof or anything else that can positively identify your animal.
You should also take a prepared kit with you in case of other emergencies. Carry an extra halter and lead rope or two, horses under stress (and they can also read yours) can break halters and/or lead ropes. An extra brush may also be helpful in case you are trying to identify your animal that may be covered in mud and look very different after they rolled, from your cleaned up beauty photos. A very important item to have in your possession is an equine first aid kit. There are many companies that sell commercially prepared kits or you can make one yourself. We have a list of items you may want to include in your kit in another article, just don’t forget any medications your horse may be taking. Don’t assume you can get it from another vet, they may require additional testing before providing it and that can run into money you could spend elsewhere.
Plan in advance where you will be taking your animals in case of emergency. Often places that would normally be available may shut down as well, so check with that facility before you head out. Because you have large animals you may need to drive further than those just going to a people shelter do. Again if you need to evacuate you should do so early if you have horses. Some evacuation routes shut them down to vehicles pulling trailers to allow more individual vehicles to get out easier when evacuations become mandatory. Often officials will announce mandatory evacuations before they are implemented (i.e. at noon they may announce a mandatory evacuation to begin at 4).
Everyone should have a backup plan in case they cannot reach their animals or if they should have to leave them. This plan should include leaving someone else the ability to get emergency care for their animals. After Hurricane Katrina many owners were unable to be located immediately, but if there were a contact locally or if they had authorized family members to authorize care many animals could have been spared trauma or injury. To spare your animals from not receiving care you can sign an emergency release form and leave it in the care of family members, neighbors or friends with clear photos of the animals for identification.
If your animals are registered through a micro-chip, tattoo or organization please be sure that you also list the person who is acting as your agent so they can be contacted. You should also update the information annually to ensure that your contact information is always up to date and there is an agent that can be reached in case of emergency.
We hope you find these tips helpful. The most important thing to take from this is that YOU are the one responsible for the care and safety of the animals in your care. It is up to you to ensure that your plans protect you and your animals.