If the immense scope of the recent tragedy in our southern states hasn't convinced everyone of the importance of disaster planning, I can't imagine what will.
As relief and recovery efforts continue for humans and animals alike, those of us who are fortunate to have been spared this time around must make it a priority to prepare our entire family -- including our pets -- for potential calamity. Here are the basics you need to know.
-- Have a plan
Prepare for all possibilities, and make sure everyone in your family knows what to do. Try to figure out now what's most likely for you and your community, and how will you respond. Where will you go? What will you take? You need to get these answers in advance.
People need to rely on each other during emergencies, and this is just as true when it comes to your pets. Get to know your neighbors, and put a plan in place to help each other out. Find out from local shelters and veterinary organizations -- and your family's own veterinarian -- what emergency response plans are in place and how you fit into them in case of a disaster.
-- ID your pets
Many, if not most, animals will survive a disaster. But too many will never see their families again if there's no way to determine which pet belongs to which family. That's why pets should always wear a collar and identification tags. Better still is the additional permanent identification that can't slip off, such as a tattoo or an embedded microchip.
Keep temporary ID tags on hand to put on your pet if you're forced to evacuate. One of the easiest: key tags and a permanent marker for jotting down your current number. Then attach them to your pet's collar.
-- Practice preventive care
Disease follows disaster, which is why keeping a pet as healthy as possible with up-to-date vaccinations is essential.
Prepare a file with up-to-date medical records, your pets' microchip or tattoo numbers, your veterinarian's phone number and address, feeding and medication instructions, and recent pictures of your animals. Trade copies of emergency files with another pet-loving friend or family member. It's a good idea for someone else to know about your pet, should anything happen to you.
-- Have restraints ready
Even normally calm pets can freak out under the stress of an emergency, especially if injured. You should be prepared to restrain your pet -- for his safety and the safety of others.
Keep leashes, muzzles and carriers ready for emergencies. The means to transport your pet shouldn't be something you have to find and pull from the rafters of your garage. Harnesses work better than collars at keeping panicky pets safe.
Shipping crates are probably the least-thought-of pieces of emergency equipment for pet owners but are among the most important. Sturdy crates keep pets safe and give you more options for housing your pets if you have to leave your home.
-- Keep supplies on hand
Keep several days' worth of pet food and safe drinking water ready to go in the event of a disaster, as well as any necessary medicines. Canned food is better in an emergency, so lay in a couple of cases, and don't forget to pack a can opener with your emergency supplies. For cats, keep an extra bag of litter on hand. And pack lots of plastic bags for dealing with waste.
-- Learn first aid
Pet-supply stores sell ready-made first aid kits, or you can put your own together fairly easily with the help of any pet-related first-aid book or Web site. Keep a first-aid book with your supplies. If you check around in your community, you should be able to find a pet first-aid class to take that will give you the basic knowledge you need.
-- Be prepared to help
You may be lucky enough to survive a disaster nearly untouched, but others in your community won't be so fortunate. Check out groups that train volunteers for disaster response, and consider going through the training. Disaster-relief workers do everything from distributing food to stranded animals to helping reunite pets with their families, and helping find new homes for those animals who need them.
Volunteering in a pinch is not only a good thing to do -- it's also the right thing for anyone who cares about animals and people.
Help still needed
The need for help in hurricane-devastated areas will continue for weeks and months to come. Helping people continues to be a priority, but also consider donating to the disaster response funds of these animal-related groups.
-- American Veterinary Medical Foundation (www.avmf.org; 800-248-2862, ext. 6689). The charitable arm of the American Veterinary Medical Association supports the training and deployment of veterinarians and technicians in times of disaster. The veterinary colleges at Louisiana State University and Mississippi State University have also been very involved in disaster response and are in need of assistance.
-- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (www.apca.org; 866-275-3923) and the Humane Society of the United States (www.hsus.org; 301-258-8276). These well-established groups have a strong national presence and work with local shelters to help in affected communities.
-- Noah's Wish (www.noahswish.org; 530-622-9313) and the United Animal Nations Emergency Animal Rescue Service (www.uan.org/ears; 916-429-2457). These organizations are set up solely for the purpose of responding to animals in time of disaster, and they offer training to volunteers willing to help in time of need.
As we go forward, many of the animals displaced by the hurricane will end up in shelters throughout the country as these organizations step up to assist from hundreds and thousands of miles away. Your local charities will need your support to continue their routine efforts in your community and to help those still in need in disaster-stricken areas. You can also locate animals in need of new homes through Petfinder (www.petfinder.com).
How big will this puppy get?
Q: I have recently acquired a puppy. I already had a 6-month-old dog and was not really looking for another one. But a couple moved in down the street, and a few nights ago the wife came knocking on my door, crying. She asked if I would like to have the puppy she was carrying in her arms because her husband was making her get rid of it. I sighed and said, "Give it here," and told her to tell her husband ... Well, I won't say what I told her to tell him.
Are there any tips or tricks to determine how large a puppy will grow up to be? This is not a purebred, but the head shape does seem to indicate there is some Chihuahua in the dog. -- S.L., via e-mail
A: As a person who has run a rescue group, and has fostered and placed (and kept!) more secondhand animals than I honestly can count, I have to say that few expressions set my teeth on edge as much as "have to get rid of" does. But on the other hand, isn't it good this little pup is now with someone who cares for him? Better he get into the right home now than suffer for the lack of affection and care that was surely in his future at the home down the street.
Guessing the adult size of a puppy of unknown origins is a tricky business, to say the least. Many experienced shelter workers and more than a few veterinarians are pretty good at it, but no guarantees exist.
As you've already guessed, if you have an idea of what breeds went into the mix, you can guess how large the pup will end up. Problem is, some of these youngsters are so truly mixed up, it's anyone's guess as to what went into the genetic blender. However, you'll be needing to take your new puppy to your veterinarian anyway. So while you're there, ask for the veterinarian's and staff's best guesses on what breeds are in your puppy's background.
The other way to predict a puppy's grown size is to look at the paws, because big dogs start out with relatively big puppy paws.
Nothing is foolproof, though. In fact, a friend of mine -- who's a well-regarded expert on dogs -- once adopted a puppy from one of the nation's best-known shelters, where the staff sees enough puppies to be pretty educated about how they might turn out.
My friend and the shelter staff put their heads together and guessed the pup for a terrier mix, and figured an adult size of 30 to 40 pounds. That little puppy grew up to be a 90-pound tank of a dog. So much for expertise!
Q: Would you share another suggestion for the owner of the dusty cockatoo? Although an air purifier will help keep the dander down and keep the air clean, frequent baths for the bird will also help. You can purchase shower perches at most pet stores, or you can choose to mist your cockatoo daily. Bathing will not only keep the dander down, but it will also help prevent feather-plucking. -- T.D., via e-mail
A: You're absolutely right. Bathing and misting are necessities for pet birds, many species of which come from extremely humid climates that couldn't be more different from what we humans find comfortable in our own homes. Even better: Most birds love to get wet!
The point that needs to be remembered, however, is that although the dust can be managed, bird lovers need to recognize that powder dust is normal and natural in a healthy cockatoo.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Cat needs space when dog arrives
Before you rock your cat's world by adding a puppy or dog, be sure to set up a separate area where your cat can feel safe: a no-dogs-allowed room with food, water, litter box, scratching post and toys.
You may have to keep your cat secured in his own "safe room" for a week or two after bringing home the dog, and then put a baby-gate over the door to allow your cat to get away from the dog when he wants to.
Locking up the cat doesn't seem fair to many people, since the cat was there first. But feline behavior experts say cats adjust better to change if provided with a small, quiet area that's just for them during social upheavals such as moving or adding new people or pets to the household.
Beware of antifreeze
Antifreeze is deadly stuff. A cat can get a lethal dose by walking through a puddle of it and then licking his paws.
You can help protect your pet by being careful when working with this material, by keeping pets out of the work area, and by quickly and completely wiping up all spills. Better yet, check with your auto-supply store for radiator filler that's safer to use around animals. There are products available with a different chemical makeup that reduces the risk to animals.
Some states now require that bittering agents be added to make antifreeze less palatable to animals and children. On the national level, the Engine Coolant and Antifreeze Bittering Agent Act of 2005 will make such requirements law.
If you believe your pet has ingested antifreeze, you must get the animal to a veterinarian right away. There's no "wait and see" with this substance. Urgent veterinary attention is an animal's only chance.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
Backpacking a canine adventure
Our most recent trip with our family's Irish terrier, Lily, was a backpacking trip into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Our party usually consists of anywhere from five to eight adults, three children, two mules, a horse and two dogs -- Lily and her friend Bob, a border collie.
Lily is a wonderful trail companion. She works the trail from the start of our group to the end, making sure the number of people is correct. This past summer, I was at the end of the group, taking pictures. Lily would go to the head of our group, trot back past the mules and horse, find me, and then trot to the head of the group and start again. If anyone is too far ahead or behind, she finds them or waits for them.
Once we make camp, we take day hikes to high mountain lakes for fishing. Lily eagerly hits the trail and is blissfully tired at the end of each day. She makes many friends along the way as we encounter other hikers. I always wear a leash around my waist, just in case, and we make sure to include the dogs on the wilderness permit, as is required.
Lily had to learn to behave around the mules, and she also had to learn to sleep out on open ground. On her first-ever pack trip, she spent the night growling every time the mules moved. No one got much sleep that trip!
Lily leads a very different life from most of the Irish terriers we know. Her relatives are all show dogs. The breeder is always entertained with the stories of her trail adventures. -- Claire Frost, via e-mail
(Pet Travel is an occasional feature sharing readers' tales from the road with their pets. If you have a story to share send it to email@example.com, along with your pictures in jpeg format. )
Helping birds fly away home
If you found a pet bird, would you look for the owner? Too often the answer is "no," according to the folks who run the Bird Hotline (www.birdhotline.com). It seems that lost birds often end up in the hands of folks who figure "finders keepers" in a way that never would be the case when it comes to finding a lost dog or cat.
The Bird Hotline works to reunite lost birds with their human families by offering a place for people to post and look for lost-and-found notices. The site also maintains a group of more than 3,000 volunteers -- the Bird Patrol -- who promise to keep an eye out in their area for pet birds who have escaped.
Of course, the best way to deal with a lost bird is to never let him escape at all. By far the best advice when it comes to preventing fly-aways is to keep your bird's wings clipped.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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