By Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best, a pet health insurance agency for dogs and cats.
It doesn’t take much to create a wildfire: a cigarette, a camp fire not properly extinguished or even a lightning strike. No matter the cause, you need to act quickly to protect you and your pets. You may only have minutes to evacuate from these fast-spreading flames.
For the past 15 years, I’ve lived in wildfire country – San Diego. And, I share my home with two dogs and two cats. Let me share with you ways I do my best to keep my pets safe from the dangers of wildfires:
1. Stay informed. Sign up for reverse 911, if it is available in your area. Emergency officials will call or text you if your property falls into a voluntary or mandatory evacuation area.
2. Create a mutual pet-buddy system. Provide a set of house keys to a trusted neighbor who is willing to rescue your pets in case a wildfire strikes when you are not at home. And promise to do the same for their pets.
3. Have fire-dousing tools within reach. Keep a fire extinguisher in your home and learn how to use it properly. Keep a garden hose that can water down all sides and roof of your home.
4. Create three pet disaster preparedness bags: one stored at all times in your vehicle; one near the front door and one near the backdoor. If a wildfire flares up quickly, you can access at least one or more of these bags with your pets. These bags should contain a few days’ worth of food and pet medication as well as inexpensive slip leads you can use to restrain your dog if she becomes stressed or fearful by the smoke-filled sky.
5. Pack items to treat fire-related conditions. Make sure your pet first aid kit in your vehicle and pet disaster bag contains a pet-safe eye wash, burn ointment, antiseptic wipes and socks (or doggy booties) so you can wash out soot and debris from your pet’s eyes and treat paws that may step on embers or shattered glass during the evacuation.
6. Rehearse mock evacuations with your dogs, cats and other pets. Make it a fun game, but practice getting them into crates or being leashed and harnessed and ushered inside your vehicle quickly. Reward them with treats once you are also inside your vehicle.
7. Foster teamwork. Designate someone in the household to be in charge of grabbing the disaster kits and someone else in charge of gathering the pets.
8. Identify different escape routes you can take to avoid the path of the wildfire in advance. Confirm in advance with family and friends who live outside the fire zone that you can bring your pets to stay with them.
9. Monitor your pet’s health before, during and after the evacuation. Winds can blow the smoke, ash and fire-hot embers from wildfires into your neighborhood. Smoke contains gases that can irritate a pet’s eyes, causing them to squint, swell or become red. Inhaled smoke can cause your pet to cough, wheeze, develop nasal discharge and have shortness of breath. They are at risk for thermal burns to their coat, skin and respiratory tract by the floating embers that fall on the ground. Limit your pet’s access to outdoors and always clean their paws and coats to prevent them from ingesting the smoke-filled toxins when they groom.
10. Be ready to drive off quickly. If a wildfire is moving toward your neighborhood, back your vehicle into your garage or driveway for a quick escape with your pets.
11. Dress for safety. If you are ordered to evacuate, select an escape route as far as possible from the fire and wear long-sleeved shirt and pants. Do not wear open-toed shoes or sandals. Stay as calm as possible because your pets read – and react – to your moods.
Lastly, I also recommend becoming trained in how to handle a natural disaster by becoming a RedRover Responder volunteer at redrover.org. This volunteer organization aids pets displaced by wildfires, floods and other natural disasters as well as those involved in animal cruelty or hoarding cases.
Accidents Happen. Protect Your Pets!
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