Why does the Federal Emergency Management Agency care about what happens to pets during disasters? It's simple: Because they've learned that if no one plans for animals, people will also suffer.
"Pets are more and more treated like members of the family," said Cindy Taylor, a spokesperson for FEMA's Project Impact, which works to get the word out about disaster preparedness, including offering tips for pet lovers. "The consequences of not planning for pets have consequences for humans."
Taylor cites examples where people put themselves and others in jeopardy in order to help their pets. "We've had emergency workers in situations where they had to rescue people who should have evacuated in advance but didn't because they wouldn't leave their pets. And some people put themselves in danger by re-entering an area too soon to search for their pets."
Project Impact has teamed with the Humane Society of the United States to help educate people on the steps they can take in advance of a disaster to help pets get through it with as little disruption as possible. The recommendations have the ring of common sense about them, but they aren't known or practiced by enough pet lovers.
At the top of the list of recommendations, according to Taylor: Do everything you can to avoid leaving your pets behind. "A lot of people turn their animals loose, figuring they would be better off fending for themselves," said Taylor. "That's not a good idea. Take your pets with you, but as a last resort, then you should leave them on the highest floor possible in your home, with a few days' supply of water and food."
Taylor stresses the need for keeping pets in mind when preparing a family disaster kit. Set aside extra bowls, collars, ID tags and leashes for all pets, along with pet food and drinking water. (If you use canned food, be sure you've packed pop-top cans or a manual can opener.) You'll also need copies of your pet's vaccination records, as well as a supply of any regular medications. Don't forget a litter box and filler for cats. For all pets, paper towels, plastic bags and disinfectant will make cleanups easier.
Many pets become separated from their families, which is why you should also do what you can to give you an edge in finding your pet. Prepare a folder with pictures of your pet to help with identification. Include a record of any identifying tattoos or microchips. And above all: Make sure a current ID tag is on your pet and that it carries not only your contact information, but also a number for a friend or relative who's out of the area (in case you cannot be reached).
Check into what arrangements are available in your community for pets in times of disasters. While some areas include shelter for pets in their plans, most communities will not allow animals in emergency shelters. Find out now about shelters, kennels or veterinary hospitals that will take in pets during an emergency. You'll find your options greatly expanded if you have a crate available for your pet's temporary housing.
Taylor says more people than ever are aware of the impact of disasters on animals, thanks to animal-welfare groups that have gone into areas to rescue pets, as well as the media's coverage of animals in trouble. "The news media have been attentive to showing pets who have been lost or abandoned after major disasters," she said, "and that gets people thinking, "What would I do?'"
Efforts like Project Impact work to provide the answers, which will make a difference for many pets and people in the years to come.
Albert Payson Terhune is nearly unknown today, but in the time immediately before and after World War I, he was a writer whose prominence rivaled that of his friend Sinclair Lewis. While the writings of Lewis endure and are studied in literature programs today, any interest in Terhune and his work, such as "Lad: A Dog," remains something of a hobby among a few people who like dogs.
Terhune, whose mother is credited with writing the first cookbook and who wrote his first book at the age of 24, lived a life interesting enough to keep several biographers busy over the decades. The latest effort, coming nearly 60 years after Terhune's death, is "His Dogs: Albert Payson Terhune and the Sunnybank Collies" by Kristina Marshall. The book, which contains many previously unpublished photographs, focuses on the dogs in Terhune's life.
The privately published volume is available for $45 (which includes shipping and handling), and is available from Krista Hansen, 1525 Minkel Road, North Java, NY 14113. Proceeds will benefit the Collie Club of America Foundation's efforts on behalf of the welfare of the breed. More information can be found on the foundation's Web site, www.cca-foundation.org/terhune.html.
PETS ON THE WEB
The veterinary associations of Texas, Hawaii and Southern California have teamed up to produce a gem of a basic-care Web site, especially for people whose pet interests go beyond dogs and cats. AnimalLibrary.com (www.animallibrary.com) is an easy-to-navigate site offering veterinary-approved information on such pets as hedgehogs, box turtles, sugar gliders, ferrets, rabbits and guinea pigs. The site also offers a library of dog- and cat-care guides, plus a collection of short pet-care advice items by Dr. Bernadine Cruz.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I am going to adopt a cat from a friend. The cat was a stray and just had a litter of kittens. They are now 5 weeks old. The veterinarian said the mother cannot be spayed till 13 weeks after the birth of the kittens. Can she be spayed now? -- P.G., via e-mail
A: Thirteen weeks after giving birth allows too much time for a cat to get pregnant again. And a cat will get pregnant again, given even the slightest opportunity.
Alley Cat Allies, a national group that promotes the humane management of feral cat colonies, recommends spaying the mother cat two weeks after the kittens start to be weaned, which happens between the ages of 4 and 6 weeks. So you need to get the mother cat in for surgery about six to eight weeks after giving birth. In other words, make the arrangements now.
I'm not clear on what is happening to the kittens. Is your friend finding homes for them? If so, please let her know that the kittens don't need to wait long to be neutered, as well. Early spay-neuter has been accepted as safe by veterinary societies and shelters everywhere, and it can be done on cats and dogs as young as 8 weeks of age.
And what if you end up waiting too long to spay your new pet? Although it's a more complicated (and as a result, more expensive) surgery, veterinarians can and routinely do spay pregnant pets.
Q: Our dog, a terrier, is not quite 2 years old, and her barking is very irritating. We tried a bark collar, but she just got used to it. We will be traveling with her this summer. We'll be staying in motels and want to have her debarked. We live near Wichita, Kan., and want to know who does debarking here. We feel we have no other choice. Also, she doesn't like kids and will try to bite them! -- J.W., via e-mail
A: I've known a considerable number of debarked dogs in my time, since I've done rescue work with a breed that's known for its yappiness -- Shetland sheepdogs. Debarked dogs usually are still capable of barking, except that their volume is greatly reduced by the surgical alteration of their vocal cords.
Like declawing, debarking is a highly controversial procedure. I never recommend either surgery as a quick fix, and I suggest that other behavior modifications be seriously tried before any animal be put through a painful procedure. That said, I recognize that declawing and debarking have saved the lives of many animals whose behavior put them on a fast track to homelessness.
Before you talk to your veterinarian about debarking, ask for a referral to a behaviorist who can help you work on all of your dog's problems. I know barking is a nuisance, but it's natural behavior for terriers, breeds that also end up on the top of the heap when it comes to yappiness. I'm much more concerned about your dog's biting attempts, though. You need a behaviorist for your dog, or you'll need a lawyer soon enough.
I'm no fan of collars that shock dogs. In the hands of experts, they can be an effective training tool. But they are misused and overused by the general public. For barking, I much prefer collars that react to the noise with a harmless puff of citronella spray right under the nose -- which dogs find extremely annoying. You can find these in many pet-supply stores, catalogs or Web sites, at a cost of about $120.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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