So What Do You Do With Your Pets If A Hurricane Comes Our Way?

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As I compose this column, there have already been seven named storms (one is still active), and several “invests” that our local weather personalities have pointed out to us as potential threats.   This is not unusual for late August and early September on the Coast, as there is a spike in potential tropical storm and hurricane activity every year at this time.  I have been asked at least once daily by someone locally the central question about what to do with beloved pets should we get one of those nasty storms in the northern Gulf threatening us.  So here is my simple answer:

If at all possible, when you evacuate, take you pets with you.  You may think it strange that a veterinarian who runs a boarding kennel as well might give this advice, but I’ll enumerate five reasons why it’s the best answer.

  • If flood waters or excessive winds threaten your home and the people in your family, they also threaten animals. Those of us who weathered Katrina know firsthand about folks who stayed at home and had tragic losses.  We also know how well-meaning people may had left pets in their garages or sheds only to let them meet a demise that many didn’t see coming.
  • Realistically, there are not enough pet kennels or other animal shelters on the coast to house all the pets that might have a need. On top of that, some veterinary clinics and kennels have even shied away from boarding during hurricanes because of liability issues.
  • There is no guarantee that a veterinary clinic or kennel building will still be standing after a hurricane. Sure, we were fortunate here at Bienville AMC with Katrina, in that our building sustained very minimal wind damage and was above the flood line.  However, less than a half a mile away from us, an associated tornado severely damaged the former Ocean Springs High School and local businesses around it.  One of the saddest signs I saw after Katrina was a posted sign on the front door of a colleague’s flooded out clinic that read “I am so sorry, but the pets here all perished because of the flood waters.”   Just because our clinic has weathered several storms over the years, there is never a guarantee that all will be well.
  • There are more pet-friendly hotels than ever before that want to help. Frankly, it’s getting to the point that the more common way to ask the question is “you do take pets here, don’t you?”.  Certainly I would call or reserve on-line ahead to be sure you and your pets can be accommodated.  Of course, if you evacuate to the home of a family member inland, that it always a good option as well.  If you do hit the road, remember to also take your pet foods, medicines, and vaccination records for proof if you go to a hotel or out-of-town kennel.
  • Who knows how long you will be away, or when the veterinary clinic or kennel will re-open. This may sound like a minor point, but it is quite emotional to some pet owners.  After Katrina, cell and land line communications were down for days.  Even though we had re-opened and were operating with a skeleton crew (whoever we could get back to work), many clients couldn’t get through to us.  Some clients didn’t return for their beloved pets until weeks later.  And from our perspective, even though we re-opened for business fairly quickly, that extra day we were closed seemed like an eternity for a few local people.

So there you have it.  I was trying to count the number of named storms I had witnessed since I began practice 33 years ago.  While I lost count, the five or six memorable ones always bring me back to this same advice.  If you love ‘em, take ‘em with you!

Dr. Chris Duke

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