Pets and disasters

Janine Krippner is back home in Waipā where she is surrounded by volcanoes, and family. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

Last weekend I was having breakfast with friends who experienced Cyclone Gabrielle in the Hawkes Bay area. As is natural for many conversations in my life, it started out talking about eruptions, then moved on to earthquakes and extreme weather. A common thread through all of these events is that people who experience disasters often don’t think that it will happen to them. Those who experience loss are often unprepared and don’t think it would be that bad. This continues from my work on the 2021 La Palma eruption, where many people had 15 minutes to grab what they could and leave. I’ve written about having a list of things that are important – documents, medications, items that you would hate to lose. The next step is having these things in one place, in a “grab-bag” so you don’t have to think when a crisis hits, remembering that we do not think normally when in the middle of a crisis. There are plenty of sites online with recommendations for putting these together.

Something else crucial to many of us are our non-human family members. Through too many disasters I have heard of people refusing to evacuate because they couldn’t take pets or sleeping in cars with them. Even more stories exist of pets missing. I have two cats and like many of us, my heart aches even thinking of losing them. I have gone over what I would do if something like a large earthquake hit and at the top of my mind is always making sure they are okay. Thankfully, mine are very happy indoor cats, so unless there is major structural damage to my home I will at least know where they are.

My friends spoke about people who had cows and sheep turn up on their property, horses in odd places, and a goat on a boat after the cyclone. Have you thought about a plan for your pets or animals? Do you have any medications somewhere that are easy to grab and run? Do you know where your pet carriers are? Having our pets microchipped can greatly help when it comes to reuniting with our furry friends if they get lost. Do you have friends or neighbours nearby who could check on your animals (and vice versa) if you can’t get home? During a disaster, roads can be blocked, bridges can collapse, and communications networks can go down. What is your plan if you are stuck at work?

There are websites that have clear information on pet safety during emergencies and how to prepare for your pets, with simple things like having printed photos handy in case you find yourselves separated. Having some extra food and supplies around at all times, where possible, can really help. I understand that not everyone can easily afford this. Especially these days. If you can, having a pet get-away kit could make a huge difference – see the SPCA NZ “Animals in emergencies” website for more. This can include water bowls and water, bedding, important documents, treats, plastic bags, litter, and more.

There is so much on our minds in everyday life, hearing about yet another thing to do is not usually welcome. I get it. Having a chat about your household plan over dinner tonight might just save you major heartache down the track.

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