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Your animals require special planning in the event of an emergency.
Image Credit: Clemson University

COLUMBIA — When a hurricane is headed your way, you can decide your best course of action. Your animals can’t. They depend on you to make the decisions for them.

Planning for an emergency can be tough enough just for family members. It’s even more complex when you consider the safety and well-being of pets and farm animals.

“Readiness for a disaster is more about when than if,” said Charlotte Krugler, emergency preparedness veterinarian for Clemson University Livestock-Poultry Health (LPH). “Peak hurricane season is mid-September and we know South Carolina will face a landfall sooner or later.

“Many animal owners are hesitant to evacuate unless they know their animals will be safe. But staying behind can put families in harm’s way, even causing loss of life. And leaving the animals behind can hamper the efforts of first responders entering the area to deal with human life and safety issues,” she said. “For these reasons, it’s essential to plan ahead and consider all options for sheltering.”

Krugler advises people evacuating with pets to seek temporary shelter with friends or family out of the affected area.

“Second best is to find a ‘pet-friendly’ hotel in a quick Internet search,” she said. “There are also numerous facilities for safe pet boarding across the state. However, some folks, especially those without transportation, will need to seek refuge in a shelter and some of these will have pets.”

Although some counties have set up emergency pet-sheltering sites, more are needed, Krugler said. For that reason, she said, LPH teamed up with two new groups — the S.C. Veterinary Reserve Corps and the state’s Multi-Agency Mass Care Task Force — to train volunteers to help with animal and agricultural issues in disasters.

The new Veterinary Reserve Corps is led by the South Carolina Association of Veterinarians, which LPH helped obtain a pair of grants to assist with development and volunteer training.

One, from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, enabled trainers from the Florida State Animal Response Coalition to deliver a three-day Small Animal Emergency Shelter course in Columbia this summer in which veterinarians, county emergency managers and animal care and control officers from from 13 South Carolina counties learned how to set up, manage and staff emergency animal shelters, with many participating in “train-the-trainer” sessions to certify them to deliver the courses themselves.

Funds from a second Veterinary Reserve Corps grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials will be used to help counties find additional emergency pet shelter sites, to spread the animal shelter training to others and to help train veterinary professionals who are interested in helping LPH as field staff in the event of an animal disease outbreak.

The S.C. Multi-Agency Mass Care Task Force, led by American Red Cross and the S.C. Department of Social Services, was formed this year. LPH collaborates with members of the task force to update plans and improve solutions for emergency sheltering of the public, including those with special medical needs and people with service animals and pets.

“Human life and safety always comes first,” Krugler said. “During emergencies, most animal issues really boil down to people issues. So our goal is to provide the safest possible circumstances during an emergency for everyone concerned, which ultimately includes animals, too.”

Krugler recommends animal owners contact their local emergency management authorities for information about shelters in the area that can accommodate animals.

As for farm animals, it’s not always possible to evacuate horses and other farm animals during an emergency. Some may be safer left at home.

If horse owners decide to evacuate, they should try to be on the road a day or two ahead of any evacuation orders. The Clemson LPH website has resources to assist horse and livestock owners, including a list of equine emergency stable sites, disaster preparedness tips for livestock owners and brochures for horse owners and owners of small ruminants.

Prepare your farm animals well in advance for the possibility of a storm-related emergency. Here are some basics to consider:

  • Create a list of emergency telephone numbers, as well as a neighborhood agreement to check on each other’s animals.
  • Make sure every animal has durable and visible identification.
  • Secure or remove anything that could become blowing debris.
  • Reinforce all structures, including barns and outbuildings, with hurricane straps and other measures.
  • Modify fencing and open gates so that animals may move to high ground in a flood and to low-lying areas during high winds.
  • Ensure there is enough food and water for at least a week. This may include the need for backup power, hand pumps if on a well and large, secure containers.

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