SPCA New Zealand

Are you disaster prepared?

19 February 2024

If an emergency or natural disaster happened today, do you have a plan in place to save not only yourself and your family, but your animals too?

Are you disaster prepared?

Natural disasters and extreme weather events, such as the recent fires around Christchurch, and Cyclone Gabrielle last year, have shown that we all need a plan for emergency situations.

All animals matter in emergencies, and when disaster strikes their lives shouldn’t be left at risk.

Why you need to be prepared

It is essential that household plans include all members of the family and this includes your animals. Advanced preparation for your animals is as important as it is for other members of your household.

There are two essential steps that should be taken in preparation for any emergency. This will ensure that all your family members are prepared and know what to do in an emergency situation.

1. Create an emergency plan

You must take your animals with you should you have to leave your home or the area. Your animals cannot survive without you and you may not be able to return to your property for several days. Remember if it is unsafe for you to remain in your home, it is unsafe for your animals as well.

Discuss your emergency plan with your family or household so everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency. Practice your plan and leave a copy in an easily-accessible place (e.g. posted on the fridge).

The following steps can help you prepare your household and your animals for an emergency situation:

  • Make emergency arrangements with friends or relatives outside your neighbourhood or area.
  • Keep contact details of “pet-friendly” hotels and motels in case you have to evacuate your home or neighbourhood.
  • Attach a permanent disc to your animal’s collar with your name, address and contact number.
  • Microchip all your animals and ensure microchip and dog registration details are up to date. Keep an out of area secondary contact listed on the microchip database (New Zealand Companion Animal Register, NZCAR).
  • Keep photos of your animals electronically, including photos of you with your animals.
  • If you have domestic animals or livestock, ensure you have an emergency plan so they are secure, have food, water and shelter. Be aware of which paddocks can be used to move livestock away from hazards such as floodwaters and power lines.

2. Prepare a full survival kit with provisions for your animals

After an emergency or disaster you may need to take shelter in another place for a number of days, where food, water and power supply may be disrupted or limited. A Pet Disaster Survival Kit can ensure that you are prepared and can take care of your animals after an event.

This is a crucial resource that you can use to support your animal, whether it is immediately after a disaster strikes or for a number of days afterwards. Ideally you should store this by a door or in an easily accessible place.

Your survival kit should include:

  • Containment, including:

- A carrier for each small animal (labelled with your name, contact number and address)

- Lead, collar (animal name, contact number address) and muzzle for each dog

  • Rope
  • Towels/blankets (used blankets provide a familiar smell that is reassuring)
  • A set of pet identification documents
  • Records, including:

- Vaccinations and veterinary history

- Registration and microchip information

- Photographs of your animals (with online backup) including a photo of you together with your animals

  • Blanket/bedding
  • Food and water (for five days)
  • Tin opener
  • Medication (if needed) for five days
  • Extra bowls for food and water
  • Familiar toys
  • Litter tray and litter
  • Plastic bags/doggie bags/gloves
  • Newspaper
  • Cleaning solution
  • An animal first aid kit and a basic animal aid first aid book. You can find information on first aid kits for animals on the Ministry for Primary Industries website
  • A list of pet friendly safe houses (friends/family) or safe shelters (e.g. kennels, catteries, pet friendly hotels)
  • Emergency contact list for your local authorities, vet and animal rescue centre
  • Container to carry everything

Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes – these natural disasters can strike anytime and anywhere. While you may think you may never need to evacuate your home, you may be mistaken. Here is what to do when a disaster or emergency happens and forces you, your family, and your pets to evacuate:

When disaster strikes

1. Take your pets

The most important thing you can do to protect your pets if you evacuate is to take them with you. Even if you leave for just a few hours, it is important to take your animals with you.

Once you leave home, you have no way of knowing how long you’ll be forced to stay away and you may not be able to go back to your pets for days, or even weeks. Animals left behind in a disaster can easily escape, be injured, lost, or even killed.

Don’t wait for a Civil Defence emergency notice. Making an unnecessary trip away and staying safe is a much better alternative to leaving it too late and having to leave your pets behind if you are not prepared.

If you are forced to leave in an emergency, and if it is safe to do so, leave a note on the front door for emergency services stating that you and your animals have left the property.

Whether it is staying with family or friends, staying at a pet shelter or rescue, or booking a motel that also accommodates pets, you need to ensure you have identified places you can stay in case of emergencies. Don’t wait till a disaster strikes before you do your research.

2. Ensure your pets are wearing identification

Ensure your pet is wearing up-to-date identification at all times. As well as your own contact details, it is also a good idea to include the number of an emergency contact outside of your immediate area. This could be a family member or friend who can be contacted if you can’t be reached. If your pet is lost, this will help them be identified and returned safely to you.

Most importantly, microchip your pet. This will offer you peace of mind if they are ever lost and will ensure you are reunited if you become separated. After the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, microchipping was the key reason owners were reunited with their pets and animals.

3. Find a safe haven quickly

If you think you may need to evacuate, start making use of your contact list of pet-friendly accommodation and call contacts as soon as you can.

Double-check you have the contact details for your local vet and pet boarding facilities nearby if your accommodation falls through. Also include after-hours vets and any animal services with a 24- hour telephone helpline.

4. Don’t wait until the last minute

Don’t wait until the last minute to get ready. Warnings of natural disasters like cyclones may be issued hours or even days in advance. Start calling your emergency pet shelters and arranging accommodation as soon as you know you need to leave. Bring your pets into your house and confine them so you can leave with them quickly if necessary.

Even practising evacuating in the car with your animals, and getting your pet familiar with their carrier, will make sure they are more comfortable if disaster strikes and will make it an easier process if you are forced to evacuate quickly.

Make sure to bring your survival kit!

Remember you may be at work or out of home when an emergency occurs, so be sure to have arrangements made in advance with a trusted neighbour to take your pets and meet you at a specific location.

Your neighbour will need to be comfortable with your animals, where they are likely to be, know your emergency plans and where your kits are kept, and have a key to your home.

5. Don’t let your animals loose after the storm

While you may be well prepared for a disaster, once it happens your home can be a completely different place.

When you return home, don’t let your pets roam freely, as everything they once knew has changed. Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone and your pet could easily become disorientated and get lost.

For a few days keep them contained, whether it is ensuring your dog is on a leash or your cat is kept in a carrier inside the house.

It’s important to be patient with your pets after a disaster. Their home and routine has significantly changed and they may be scared and timid as they try to settle back in. They may have behavioral problems and stress from the situation. If this continues or health issues appear, seek advice from your veterinarian.

To find out more about the emergency services we provide, visit our SPCA National Rescue Unit page.

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