You can avoid that awful, panicky feeling that hits your gut in these situations. If you already have a plan in place, it's simply a matter of implementation.
I remember pondering the decision with key staff on Friday night, Aug. 27, 2005, on whether to evacuate the Louisiana SPCA for Katrina. After all, we had evacuated a few months earlier for Hurricane Dennis with no consequence. Evacuating an animal shelter is a ton of work. It involves finding and renting climate-controlled "box" trucks, preparing hundreds of animals for a long journey (which includes vaccinations, photography and paperwork), dealing with personal issues and preparing the facility itself, all of which are enormous tasks for staff. Thankfully, we implemented the plan like clockwork. We had done it many times and knew exactly what to do. For Katrina, the decision to evacuate mattered.
Planning for you, your family and your pets is a life-saving decision. According to a recent poll by The Fritz Institute, 44 percent of those living on the Gulf Coast did not evacuate because they couldn't take their pets with them. By planning ahead, you and your pet can leave New Orleans together with confidence that you have a destination where you can lay your heads and remain safe until the storm passes.
Make a commitment to yourself and your pets today by doing the following:
• Create a hurricane-ready pack (in a durable, water-resistant container that opens and closes easily yet securely) that includes: your veterinarian's name and phone number, copies of pet vaccination records (If your pet gets injured or you enter a shelter, your pet will be re-vaccinated unless you have proof of inoculation.), a current photo of your pet, leash, extra collar, food and water bowls, five-day supply of pet food and a can opener if needed (It's best that your pets remain on their regular diet, otherwise diarrhea is likely to result.), bottled water, toys (your pet's favorites will foster security), paper towels for cleaning up messes, plastic baggies for picking up pet waste, muzzle, treats, kitty litter and a small travel kitty litter box if you're traveling with a cat, pet medications, and a first aid kit.
It's best to seek a veterinarian's approval before giving any medications to your pet. For example, aspirin is okay for dogs but can kill cats, and ibuprofen can cause kidney failure. Seek your veterinarian's recommendation in developing your first aid kit.
• Schedule an appointment to have your pet microchipped. If your pet is lost during the evacuation, a microchip will allow a shelter or veterinarian to easily locate you. When registering your pet with the microchipping service, be sure to include a phone number that can be accessed outside of New Orleans.
• Visit the LA/SPCA on Thayer Street to obtain a "Lily Tag." If someone finds your pet, he or she can easily call the number on the tag and quickly find you. An old-fashioned identification tag provides added protection.
• Purchase a pet carrier that will allow your pet to travel with you in a car or bus. Soft-sided carriers are perfect for cats and small dogs; hard-sided carriers are needed for bigger dogs. You can purchase a carrier at any pet supply store. Carriers will also serve as your pet's safe-zone when in hotel rooms or the homes of family or friends. Be sure to get a carrier that is big enough for your pet to rest comfortably.
• Find a place that will welcome your pet. Call family and friends to ask if they would welcome your pet should you need to evacuate. Discuss the rules of their house and any concerns that might arise beforehand. During Katrina, for example, many pet owners were surprised to learn that their hosts had different rules for animals than for people. For example, your cat may be used to sleeping on the bed with you, but the host says the cat stays in the garage. Be sure you understand the expectations before you choose a particular destination.
• If you prefer to stay in a hotel or don't have family or friends nearby, visit a Web site that provides a list of pet-friendly hotels. There are many sites to help you -- www.petswelcom.com, www.letsgopets.com, www.bestpetfriendlyhotels.net are just a few (see accommodations list on P. 24). Call the hotels that interest you to ensure that the information on the Web site is accurate. Tape their phone number on your hurricane-ready pack or your refrigerator so you can find it quickly. Make a reservation as soon as it appears a storm will threaten the Gulf.
If you cannot stay in a hotel or the home of family or friends with pets, call a boarding facility in Baton Rouge, Jackson, or another location out of the danger zone. Ask what the requirements are for pets and whether any advance notice is required to ensure that your pet gets a spot; facilities will book very quickly.
Call or the check the Web sites of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture or the LA/SPCA to find the location of pet-friendly shelters; the information will be updated as it is received. These should be used as a last resort; they fill quickly on a first-come, first-served basis. You will be required to care for your pet, so staying close to the pet-shelter is required.
• Do not depend on the city to evacuate you and your pets. If you plan now, evacuation will be easy.
Laura Maloney is executive director of the LA/SPCA.