After reading even more about the potential dangers of a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest and Portland in particular, I have decided that I would like to find ways to teach people how to help their pets in a disaster. I want to share with you some of the things that I have learned from my own research and from the NET (Neighborhood Emergency Team) classes I took.

In this article, I will be talking about how to plan for the possibility that you won’t be there to help your pet after a disaster. What will they do? How will they survive? Read on to see what my plans are for my pet.

When the disaster strikes…

Where will you be? If you are like me, you spend a good portion of your time in places other than your home. I worked it out and, on average, I am only in (or within a half-mile) of my home for about 58% of my life. This takes into account the time I spend at work, shopping, doing errands and having fun elsewhere. That means that there is a 42% chance that I won’t be anywhere near home when a disaster strikes.

Here are things that I think about…

  • I am frequently on the wrong side of the river from my home and most of the bridges in our area (Portland) are likely to fall down in the Cascadia Subduction earthquake.
  • Most roads will also very likely be destroyed (either by the earthquake itself, ground liquefaction or possibly through destroyed water lines. Passage from one place to another in town will be exclusively on foot for a long time. It could take many hours, days or even weeks (even if you are relatively close) to get back to your home.
  • Fires will burn unchecked throughout the city and many older buildings will be in rubble. First responders will only be going to major problem areas (think giant fuel fires) and most people will be on their own, saving their family and pets.

I should explain that we love our dog like a child. I couldn’t bear the thought of Jazz being left all alone in the rubble of my house and starving to death. I will of course do my best to get home to him, but I decided that having a plan (in case it is a 42% day) is absolutely necessary to give me peace of mind.

Introductions are important

Have your pet play “meet and greet” with your friends in both a neutral place and coming into your home. Have your friends feed treats to make the meeting pleasant and fun. See if your pet will come when called of do other manners and obedience skills when asked for by your friends.

You can also help prevent stranger danger by having your pet learn to tolerate having your friends show up unannounced to do a “simulated care day” with them…

  1. After introducing your pet to your friends on an earlier day, duck out of the house for an errand for an hour.
  2. Have your friends return a half-hour afterwards to feed and (particularly for dogs) take them on a potty walk.
  3. Have them leave afterwards and meet with them to see how the session went.
  4. Make sure to trade out and practice the “simulated care day” with their pets, walking, feeding, and otherwise taking care of them.
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Supplies for your pet. First aid, food, water, medications and other health needs.

Supplies for care and comfort

When planning what to supply your caretaker friends with to help your pet in your absence, imagine you are taking a two week long trip into the wilderness with them and there won’t be any stores around to resupply. What would you bring for their care and comfort?

Things that I would include (at the minimum) are:

  1. Food and water for your pet to last at least two weeks, ideally longer. The amount of water should be approximately 1/2 – 3/4 gallon per day, totaling 7-10 gallons.
  2. Any critical medications that your pet needs to stay healthy and pain-free
  3. Flea control medication (Frontline, Trifexis, etc.)
  4. A warm dog blanket or bed and a sturdy crate

Redundancy is your friend (or, two is one, and one is none)

The 2=1 and 1=0 idea is a  good philosophy to have when planning out how much and where to keep supplies for a disaster. Although you may have emergency supplies in your home for emergencies, what would happen if your house collapsed or your storage shed got swallowed into a hole in the ground? Would you have a back-up plan?

  • Keep your emergency pet care supplies, not only in your home, but also at your friend’s house. If they rescue and care for your dog, they won’t have to worry about stretching their own pet supplies too thinly. Think about doing this for your own needs as well.
  • Have two friends in different locations to help your pet is also better then one. If one of your friend’s houses is severely damaged, and/or their supplies are inaccessible, having this network could be invaluable.
  • Above all, back each other up and encourage your friends to store emergency supplies at each other’s homes also. Distributing supplies like this is a safer plan and less prone to disappointment and loss.

Health and behavior considerations

Consider your pet’s personality and behavior traits. For instance, is you pet friendly with cats? How about with dogs? How do they feel about loud noises? Will they cross a slippery floor? What are they actively fearful about? Do they have a favorite nick-name?

Also let your friend know if your pet has an ongoing health condition. Are they prone to Pancreatitis and should they avoid fatty foods? Do they have severe food allergies that could lead to diarrhea or worse? Do they need to get pain medications to control their arthritis?

Write all this information down and share it with your caretaker friends so that they can better understand your pet’s needs and do their best to minimize their stress. Any information you can give them will help and will make the care more successful.

So, to wrap it up…

Your pet’s safety and comfort depends on you sharing as much information about your pet as possible with your friends who will care for them. It will also depend on providing the supplies and necessary materials to keep your pet healthy through this difficult time. Knowing that you have done what you can when you can’t get back to them will give you greater peace of mind when the disaster strikes.


Photo of dog near earthquake and tsunami rubble © Dvidshub at Flickr Creative Commons

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