Emergency Fire Preparedness
for Pet Owners

The East Coast has it's hurricanes, the Midwest has their blizzards....and Southern California has its fires. It happens every year. There doesn't seem to be any getting around fire season. That's why the San Diego Animal Support Foundation has put together this article to help pet owners prepare for the inevitable fire season. Please print this article, take immediate action, and review it each year.

Be prepared for a FAST exit strategy. During the fire season, people who live in risky areas should make every attempt to make their animals readily accessible in case of an evacuation. This means dogs and cats should be in an area where they can be quickly rounded up for evacuation by you or friends and relatives, if necessary. There is very little time for neighbors and friends to find your outdoor cat during an evacuation. Under no circumstances, however, should your pets be tied or chained up. Not only is this dangerous, but it is against the law.

Pet Emergency Networking. Every pet owner should have plan for neighbors and friends to be able to gain access to their pets in case of an emergency evacuation. Pet lovers stick together, and will help each other in an emergency! In 2007, many people who called the SDASF were at work when their homes were evacuated. They were unable to gain access to their home or get back into their neighborhood once the area was blocked by emergency crews. Please have a rescue plan set up with neighbors who are either stay-at-home parents, or people who work from home. Keep network phone numbers in your wallet at all times. If you need to call upon your network to go rescue your pets, do not wait for the mandatory evacuation, or they may not be able to get to your neighborhood in time. It's always better to be safe, than sorry. Evacuate your pets as soon as you can, and it will be one less thing to worry about later.

Pet Emergency Kit/Supplies: Evacuation centers may require a crate for your pet. If you have one, transportation and evacuation will always be easier. If you don't already have one, this will be a good investment, so please consider buying one. Other necessary supplies:

  • Leash
  • Disposable garbage bags for waste/disposable litter box for cat
  • ID Tags
  • At least three days worth of food and a can opener, if necessary
  • Bowls for water and food
  • Treats
  • Bottled water
  • Medications for your pet, and copy of prescriptions
  • Updated photo...in case your pet panics and escapes during evacuation, or at the safe haven.
  • Blanket or pet bed and a toy if necessary
  • Relevant phone numbers, including veterinarian and local animal shelter (for information only....most shelters cannot board evacuated pets, but can help with questions)
Additional considerations should be made for birds, reptiles and pet rodents.

BRING YOUR PET WITH YOU! Do not leave your pet behind, and expect someone to go into your house to rescue them. Fire Crews, Animal Control and Humane Society employees have very limited resources for rescuing pets. In addition, many Animal Control, Humane Society and rescue personnel will be set up at evacuation centers to help with the pets there, leaving nobody to canvas neighborhoods for pets left behind. Most volunteer organizations WILL NOT BE ALLOWED INTO NEIGHBORHOODS once they have been blocked by police. Even if you don't know where you're going to go, BRING YOUR PET, keep your cell phone with you and call the San Diego Animal Support Foundation, or anyone on your network, who can help you locate a pet-friendly evacuation center, hotel/motel or boarding facility. AS LONG AS YOUR PET IS WITH YOU, HELP CAN BE FOUND!

Safe Haven. If you do not want to stay in an evacuation center, have a plan for a safe haven for you and your pets. If your safe haven can't take pets, then have a plan to get your pets to their own safe haven, be it family, friends, or a boarding facility that is far from the evacuated area. Again, in Southern California, this is a yearly discussion you should have with someone to make sure you and your pets have a place to go. Don't wait until last minute to make these arrangements.

Rescue Alert Sticker: Because there may be an unexpected reason for not being able to get to your pet, or take them with you, post a rescue alert sticker which you can get from your local pet store. Post where readily visible, including number and types of pets, and veterinarian contact information.

We've learned a lot over the past years, and we saw the unexpected happen in the Wildfires of 2007, when it seemed all of Southern California was burning.
People who evacuated their animals to safe havens, quickly found out that even their safe havens weren't safe. It seemed as if they couldn't get far enough away from their homes. Most people who left pets behind, thinking they would be rescued, never saw their family pets again.

One of the things we learned from the fires is that a person with a cell phone, and a faraway friend on the other end with a computer and Internet connection can find almost anything they need...pet-friendly evacuation centers, hotels, motels, boarding facilities, news, etc.

We emphasize that the time to plan your family's evacuation (including pets) is not when the flames are visible from your home. The time to plan is NOW. Fire Season comes every year to Southern California, and your evacuation plan, including contact phone numbers and emergency supplies, should be checked and updated each year.
One of the best things about pet owners is the camaraderie they have for one another. "Dog people" will rush to the aid of any dog, "cat people" will do anything to help a cat, and as we found out in the 2007 wildfires, "livestock people" with a trailer know no limits when it comes to rescuing horses and livestock. (In 2007, hundreds of people with trailers from across the nation volunteered with the SDASF to evacuate livestock and other animals) So network with your neighborhood and get a yearly plan and call list together at the beginning of each fire season. It's not too late to get going on this right now!