COLUMBIA — When a Hurricane Harvey happens here, will you be ready?

South Carolina is every bit as vulnerable to hurricanes as Texas. Preparing for them is up to you. And the decisions you make affect not only you, but your animals, from your pet gerbil to your American Quarter Horse and everything in between.

“Many animal owners are hesitant to evacuate unless they know their animals will be safe,” said Charlotte Krugler, emergency preparedness veterinarian for Clemson University Livestock-Poultry Health (LPH). “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. For these reasons, it’s essential to plan ahead and consider all options for sheltering.”

Clemson LPH has compiled helpful information for animal owners, including hurricane guidance for livestock owners. Its Emergency Preparedness webpage includes a list of emergency equine stable sites and other information to help you prepare for the care of your animals in disasters.

“Early preparation can help you mitigate losses should your farm be in the path of strong winds, flooding or spinoff tornadoes,” Krugler said.

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

If you plan to evacuate ahead of the storm with some or all of your animals, plan now. Maintain a current list of potential destinations and their requirements, and get an early start.

“Trailers and high winds are not a good combination. Also, by leaving earlier than others you may avoid heavy traffic and bridge closures,” Krugler said. “If you decide to move your horses, you should know where you’re going. Make arrangements with friends or emergency stable sites in advance.”

Even if you plan to keep your animals at home, preparation now is essential.

“Horses have lived outside for thousands of years and their instinct will go a long way toward keeping them out of trouble,” Krugler said. “Ensure that feed and water are available for them and check your barn and your pasture for hazards. During a hurricane, leading causes of injury and death include collapsed barns, dehydration, electrocution and accidents from fencing failure.”

If fences are destroyed by destructive winds, loose horses may wander for miles, so identification on each horse is vital. Before you leave, make sure your horses have proper ID. You can use livestock tags, neck bands or even luggage tags secured in the horses’ manes to identify every horse on your property. You can even write a phone number on the horse’s body with livestock crayon.

Veterinarians and emergency personnel agree that micro-chipping is the ideal method of identification. Check with your veterinarian about having this done. If your horse or any of your other animals are microchipped, make sure you register your contact information with the microchip company and keep it current if your address or phone numbers change. This is essential so that you can be reached if your animal is found at-large.

If your horse has a microchip, tattoo or freeze brand, take the paperwork with you. You also need photographs of each horse in case you have to prove ownership.

To alert responders, use a can of spray paint to write on the outside barn wall “Horses Inside” or “Horses in Pasture” with contact phone numbers. Be sure someone in the area knows where you will be. It’s also a good idea to have a neighborhood agreement that whoever returns first will make welfare checks on each other’s animals.

“Hurricanes in our part of the country aren’t an ‘if,’ they’re a ‘when,’” Krugler said. “Peak hurricane season is mid-September and we know South Carolina will face a landfall sooner or later. Preparing now can save trouble, save money and save lives.”

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