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Be Prepared for Disasters
No matter where you live, natural disasters can happen without warning. From tornadoes to floods to forest fires, we’ve seen it all and have helped cats that are affected by those extreme situations. The best thing to do for the cats you care for is have a plan in case a natural disaster does strike.
Remember: Community cats are resourceful. The outdoors is their home, so they know how to deal with weather. Animals often can sense when bad weather is coming and move to higher ground and safe places instinctually. However, there are still things you can do both ahead of time and during emergencies to help outdoor cats and your own cats.
How to Prepare and Keep Cats Safe in a Disaster
1. Stay Alert
Enable emergency alerts on your phone, tablet, or other devices so you will be notified immediately of any possible disasters. If you live in an area prone to extreme weather, it’s a good idea to follow the weather forecast regularly.
In the event of a disaster, the best thing for you and for your cats is to comply with expert recommendations. Follow any state, local, or federal instructions regarding evacuation, sheltering in place, etc.
2. Cat Identification
Have descriptions of your own cats and the community cats you care for, along with photos. Alley Cat Allies’ cat identification guide and worksheet can help you accurately describe and record your cats’ physical characteristics.
If you need to look for displaced cats in shelters or other rescue areas, this information will help you accurately identify them. Make sure all ID tags and microchips have up-to-date information.
3. Back-up Cat Caregiver
Enlist a back-up caregiver who is responsible for the community cats in your absence and network with other community cat caregivers in your area to set up a buddy system to create a safety net of care for the cats. You may be able to find other cat caregivers in your area through our Feral Friends Network.
4. Emergency Contact Card
Make an emergency contact card for your own cats and community cat colonies in case you are not immediately available. Include all contact information for your substitute caregiver. Carry this card in your wallet and your car, give copies to your backup caregiver, and post it somewhere visible in your home like on the refrigerator.
5. List Local Animal Shelters
Make a list of local animal shelters and their contact information. You will need this information in case you need their help or resources.
6. Emergency Supply Kit
Keep an emergency supply kit on hand and know where to find it quickly. You’ll find a list of items to include in your kit below.
What to Do When Harsh Weather is in the Forecast
- If appropriate, turn all openings for community cat shelters and feeding stations away from the storm surge or toward higher ground. If possible, move them to slightly higher, protected ground nearby.
- Fill multiple food and water bowls in case you have to evacuate and can’t return immediately.
- In general, don’t wait for evacuation orders to come before you leave the area. Follow the weather reports and use your best judgment. If you can evacuate elsewhere easily (like to a family member or friend’s house) before inclement weather begins, it’s better safe than sorry.
- If evacuation orders do come, do NOT ignore them to “ride it out.” Enable emergency alerts and stay engaged.
If You Need to Evacuate
- Bring your pets with you, but do not try to trap and contain unsocialized (or feral) community cats.
- Determine a safe place to go ahead of time.
- Know that evacuation and Red Cross shelters do not usually accept pets. Check online or ask in your community if shelters that help animals will be set up in the event of emergency and where.
- Check with family and friends and have a plan and agreement with them ahead of time. If you can, offer your home to them in case of emergency in turn!
- Make a list of pet-friendly hotels outside the evacuation zone. Motel 6, La Quinta, and Red Roof are pet-friendly chains; however, some locations may have restrictions on number and size of pets.
- The following resources can also help you locate pet-friendly hotels in your area: bringfido.com or call 877-411-FIDO; pet-friendly-hotels.net or call 866-966-3046; petswelcome.com; and tripswithpets.com.
- AirBnB automatically emails hosts in areas close to where disasters strike, encouraging them to help and allowing them to list spaces for free. Pet policies still vary by host, so be sure to filter your search.
- VRBO, another vacation home rental service, offers many pet-friendly listings and is popular among people who travel with companion animals.
- And lastly, have a list of pet boarding facilities that may be available during an emergency.
- Bring your emergency supply kits, as well as additional supplies to provide community cat colonies upon your return.
- Do a practice run:
- Learn your pets’ hiding spots for when they are stressed or scared so you know where to look for them.
- Make your pets’ carriers comfortable with linens, favorite toys, and Feliway spray for cats. Train your pets to get in and stay in their carriers using treats as rewards.
- If your pet isn’t used to riding in your evacuation vehicle, take them for a practice drive. If you do not have a car, make sure you have an alternate transportation plan—make arrangements with family or friends, or contact your local government to find out your options in case of disaster.
- Practice removing your cat from her hiding spot and placing her in a carrier or pillow case.
- Make sure everyone in your household knows where to find the pets, what to take with them, and where to meet.
If You Need to Shelter in Place
- Choose a safe, pet-friendly room with no or few windows. Remove any toxic chemicals or plants.
- Make sure the room is stocked with everything the animals need, including food, water, toys, linens or beds, litter boxes for cats, and pee pads for dogs. See our Emergency Supply Kit guide below for other needed items.
- Stressed cats may try to hide, so close off any areas where they might get stuck, such as vents or beneath heavy furniture. To provide safe hiding spots, bring a covered cat bed or make one using a blanket and cardboard box.
When It’s Safe to Return After a Disaster
- Only release your pets in a safe and secure environment. Keep them in their carriers or on leashes until you have checked your home for unsecured exits, sharp objects, spilled chemicals, or exposed wiring.
- Before taking your pet outside, examine the area for trash, downed powerlines, and any wildlife that has migrated during the storm.
- Don’t allow pets to free roam outdoors right away. They could become disoriented and get lost, as familiar scents and landmarks may have changed.
- It is likely your pets will experience stress and discomfort. However, if this persists, or if they show any signs of illness, contact a veterinarian.
- Begin cleaning up the colony area to remove any potential hazards for the cats. Check feeding stations and outdoor shelters for damage.
- Look for the cats in your colony. If any are missing, immediately:
- Determine which agencies, if any, are on the ground in your area assisting animals. Contact those organizations directly and provide a description of the cats you are missing. Determine how you can claim these cats if they are found.
- Contact your local animal shelters. Ask if they are trapping cats in your area, and determine how long they will hold feral cats. Animal shelters may experience a high volume of calls and influx of animals. For this reason, we advise that caregivers go to the shelters in person to find missing cats. Determine from shelter staff how you can claim your cats.
- Don’t panic if the cats aren’t waiting when you get back. Cats can hide for days after severe weather before returning to their colonies.
Emergency Supply Kits
We encourage pet owners to have a basic disaster supply kit ready at all times. The following items should be kept in an easily accessible and easy-to-carry backpack or duffel bag in case you need to evacuate quickly. Disaster kit basics for pets include:
- Pet first-aid kit and guide book
- Supply of prescription medications for pets. Always remember to rotate these out of your kit and keep track of expiration dates so you are not carrying around useless or old medication
- Veterinary and microchip ID records for both companion and community cats
- Photos of companion cats (preferably with you in it to prove ownership) and cats in colonies in case they need to be identified
- Pet boarding instructions and records of special needs
- Pet food (three to seven days’ worth; be sure to rotate out of your kit as needed to keep it fresh) and dishes (the collapsible kind work well). Check that any canned food comes with pull tabs, or else add a hand-operated can opener to the kit
- Litter box and litter (and scoop if possible)
- Leash (for dogs) and extra collar with tags
- Crate or carrier (preferably one per animal with the animal’s name, your name, and your contact info written on the outside). Please ensure the carrier is not damaged in any way and test its locking mechanisms ahead of time
- Pillow case or other item to catch your cat in in case you need to quickly grab your animal to leave
- Blankets or towels
- Bottled water (seven-day supply per person and animal)
- Plastic bags, paper towels, liquid dish soap, and disinfectant for cleanup
- Some of your animal’s favorite toys and treats and material to help them feel calm
- Handling gloves for cats and muzzles for dog (in case others need to help with your animals)
- Your disaster kit for the people in your family, which should include: flashlight and extra batteries; credit card and cash; copies of personal identification; a portable, solar- or battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries; an extra set of car keys; matches in a waterproof container; duct tape; extra clothing and shoes; extra medication and copies of insurance information; permanent marker; and an all-in-one tool like a Swiss army knife or Leatherman®
If Your Cat Becomes Lost
If you’ve ensured your cat was microchipped as a critical preparation step, notify the microchip company and confirm that all the information about your cat is current.
Try the “Calling Method”
Go out at the same time of day as often as possible (especially at dawn and dusk, when it is quiet), and call your cat for about 15 minutes straight. Don’t move around, and make sure your voice is calm and not pleading.
You can also shake a container of treats or a squeaky toy, as these sounds may give her extra incentive to approach you.
Place your cat’s litter box outside your home. The familiar scent may help guide her back. You can do the same with a box of dirty laundry or used linens.
Wear unlaundered clothing when looking for her to help her recognize your scent.
If need be, create a missing cat flyer with the cat’s photograph, name, color, and fur length; where she was last seen; and your contact information. Once conditions are safe, post the flyers in your neighborhood, local veterinary offices, and community centers.
Inform Shelter Staff
If you are in an evacuation shelter that accepts cats, inform one of the shelter staff responsible for pets. Give the staff member a photograph of your cat, or a missing flyer if you have created one.
Determine which agencies, if any, are on the ground in your area assisting animals. Contact those organizations directly and provide a description of the cat you are missing. Determine how you can claim her if she is found.
Network with Area Shelters
Visit these shelters in person as often as possible. Phone calls might not be as effective, since personnel answering the phones may not have all the information, and your description of your missing cat may not be the same as the shelter’s descriptions.
Check Local Ads
Check your local paper’s lost and found ads, in print and online. Also check Craigslist.
Place your own ads in local papers and on Craigslist. Use apps like NextDoor to alert neighbors and local businesses that your cat is missing and inquire if anyone has seen her.
Take to Social Media
In the aftermath of a disaster, there are often groups on Facebook or other social media platforms created specifically for people impacted to find their lost pets or seek other assistance. If there is no such group, make your own post detailing that your cat is missing, including the cat’s photograph, name, and your contact information.
Ask friends, family, and community pages to share it, or post it manually on a community page if possible. Use any hashtag that may exist for the disaster to increase the post’s reach.
Check with Neighbors
Talk with your neighbors personally to alert them to your search. Describe your cat and tell neighbors the date she went missing—they may have observed something that will help. Ask for permission to check your neighbor’s house/property, under or on porches, under sheds, in garages, and around bushes.
Responding to a Disaster as a Volunteer
If you plan on responding to a disaster as a volunteer, we recommend transporting the following items that are always in demand during emergency animal rescue:
- Bottled water
- Dry and canned pet food and can openers
- Dog crates and carriers
- Humane cat traps
- Old towels, sheets, and blankets
- Leashes and collars
- Litter boxes
- Heavy gloves and protective clothing
- Lanterns and flashlights with batteries
- Portable generators
- Medical supplies:
- Sterile gauze pads
- Absorbent dressing
- Flea and tick repellents
- Instant cold packs
- Latex gloves
We hope these tips help you, your family, and your cats stay safe in emergencies.