Are You and Your Pets Prepared for a Major Disaster?

As a nation, as citizens of this planet, we have watched many catastrophes unfold. We were warned of Hurricane Katrina, and as I saw the devastation, my heart ached for those who survived the winds and water, but whose lives were forever changed. I cheered for the heroes, and prayed for their continued strength and mental stability as they mopped up that mess.

Because of events like Katrina, and 9/11, our communities were told to prepare ourselves. We were told to gather people who could be called upon to help our safety forces in case of emergencies and disasters. Lakewood has done this, and we proudly have our Community Emergency Response Team. CERT has been in force for about two years now, and the group is ever getting continued training. Sometimes the training is medical, sometimes it is search-procedure practice, but it is ongoing and pertinent.

So, you ask me, this is all well and good, and I'm sure you're as happy as I am to know that Lakewood is prepared should something bad happen -- but what does all this have to do with CCLAS (Citizens' Committee for a Lakewood Animal Shelter)? Let me tell you! On March 20, CERT had a speaker, Sue Gundich, from the Animals' Disaster Team. As she talked, she told us what many of us already knew. We watched the aftermaths on TV, where although the people were evacuated, animals were left behind and their owners were frantic. We read stories of people who refused to leave their homes, choosing to brave the coming storms, rather than be separated from their pets. She told of a little town that had to be quarantined, and all the people taken to shelters, because of a toxic spill. As the clean-up dragged into weeks, pet owners were crossing the safety lines in the dark of night, risking their own contamination, to check on their furry family members, to feed, water, and comfort them for a little bit. Sue asked us if we were prepared for our animals, should we have to be evacuated. Cat owners, where are your carriers -- are they quickly accessible? Dog owners, do you know, right now, where your dog's leash and collar are?

The Animals' Disaster Team is activated when called by the person of the safety force, in charge of trying to handle an emergency, or by another official of the community, such as the mayor. As she put it, once you begin to evacuate people, her team steps in to evacuate their animals. This force goes into homes to gather them, and owners can help the process with a little forethought. Carriers are at a premium. If you have yours available, one your pet already knows, one with information and medical history attached (in a waterproof container), life might be easier for your pet until you are reunited. Get your animals microchipped!!! Repeat -- get your pets microchipped!!! In a major evacuation, although these rescue teams come in and try to set up an animal shelter near the shelter for the people, in case cages and carriers get mixed up, a microchip will positively prove you belong to your pet. Put tags with names and contact numbers on everything. (Remember to include a contact number away from your locality. Using Katrina as an example, if someone had used their home phone number only as a means to be reached, after Katrina, that number was not accessable. However, including the number of an out-of-state relative would give rescuers another avenue to reach a pet owner).

This may seem a bit much for those of us in Lakewood -- and yet back in January, CERT was called for the first time. A man on Fry Avenue was having problems, and he panicked, and threatened his neighborhood with a bomb. While the fire and police forces dealt with him, CERT helped them as they evacuated the surrounding houses. As per health and sanitation regulations, pets were not allowed to accompany their owners to the shelter until all was safe again. One woman just could not stand the thought of leaving her cat behind, perhaps in harm's way, so she took the cat with her anyway. Our warden, Mike Stewart, had to go to the shelter and retrieve the cat, ensuring the owner that he would take care of it, and bring it back to the Lakewood Animal Shelter until she could pick it up.

Our Shelter is a little shelter (for now!). We have only seven dog runs, and fifteen cages for cats and other furries, such as bunnies, ferrets, etc. If Lakewood had a lengthy evacuation due to some disaster, or potential disaster, there would not be enough room or supplies to handle very many animals. This is where the Animals' Disaster Team shines. I have asked Sue to be our guest speaker for our August 7 CCLAS meeting. Because this is such a timely and important subject, the fine folks at the Rocky River Nature Center have agreed to let us hold our gathering there. Sue will not be able to join us, but she has arranged for another member of her Disaster Team to speak.

In the meantime, think of what I have written here. Find your carriers. Make a list of how many animals are in your home so none are left behind! Make a list of things needed to know about each pet. My one cat is allergic to Dad's brand of cat food. His rescuer will need to know this. Figure out, if you had but one minute to leave the house, and had to leave your animals, what would you do? Dump all the dry food out so the animals could get to it? Leave a faucet running, ever so slightly, so there is always fresh water? These are only my ideas, and I plan on asking our speaker, just to make sure. If you don't want to wait until August for information, you can reach the Animals' Disaster Team, Cuyahoga Chapter, at 216-661-2292.

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Volume 3, Issue 15, Posted 8:32 PM, 06.27.2007