LAST UPDATED: 28 December 2018
In recent years, bushfires have ravaged large parts of the country. The Queensland floods in 2011 and 2009 Victorian bushfires caused much untold suffering to humans and animals alike. Even before the 2015 summer season began, devastating bushfires were sweeping across Western Australia and South Australia. Ours is a landscape of extremes, and with an increasingly unstable climate, experts warn that more wild weather is yet to come.
Emergencies can occur quickly and without warning. While it's impossible to prevent such events, being well prepared can mean the difference between life and death — particularly for companion animals, who are wholly dependent on their carers for their safety.
When faced with a crisis situation you'll be glad you prepared your emergency plan in advance. Here's how to make one.
Don't wait for an emergency to happen
When a disaster strikes, it's important to act as quickly as possible. Having an emergency plan so you know what needs to be done is essential. Taking time to prepare for emergencies in advance will improve the safety and well being of your family and companion animals. It is also recommended that you practice your emergency evacuation plan before it is needed.
Designate an 'emergency guardian'. This is someone, preferably close by, who can enact your evacuation plan if you're not home. This person could be a neighbour who is home during the day — a trusted person who you can leave keys with.
Where to take your animals
Determine what options there are for making sure that your animals are in a safe place during an emergency. Understandably you would want them to stay with you, but this is not always possible. Emergency shelters for example often do not accept animals for hygiene and safety reasons. If considering moving animals to a safer place, do so early to avoid unnecessary risk.
If you have time to find safe temporary accommodation for animals, first consider people that you know, such as family and friends. Other options are: boarding facilities or an animal welfare shelter away from the threatened area.
If you are able to find temporary accommodation for your animal, make sure you bring medical and feeding information, food, medicine and other supplies with them.
If you have to evacuate your house, always take your animals with you. Do not leave animals unattended or in a motor vehicle during an emergency.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when evacuating with your animals:
- Bring them indoors well in advance of an emergency event.
Consider securing them inside, so that they do not take flight or run
- Use a secure animal carrier/cage, leash or harness to move them
- Ensure all vaccinations remain current
- Ensure all animals can be easily identified with a microchip
and/or secure tag detailing name, contact numbers and current address.
Remember — during times of disaster, telephones may not be available
- make sure to pack medical and feeding information, food, medicine
and other supplies
- make sure you know various routes to get out of the dangerous zone
If you must leave animals at home
If your only option is to leave your animals at home in an emergency, take the following precautions:
- confine them in a safe area inside with small windows
- remove potential hazards from the space
- ensure they have access to plenty of food and fresh water. For example fill up bathtubs, sinks and/or buckets.
- do not leave them chained outside
- never leave an animal outside without shelter, food and clean water and bedding
- provide toilet litter and bedding for each animal
- in case of flooding, leave your animals in the highest location in your home, or a room that has access to counters or high shelves where they can take shelter. Position a heavy chair or crate to allow access to a higher refuge such as tables, bench tops or shelves.
- leave a visible note or sign outside on the door, detailing what companion animals are inside, where they are, how you can be contacted and details of your vet
- inform your state authority and/or state RSPCA so that possible rescue can be arranged
Companion animal emergency kit
When evacuating with your companion animals, you'll need to take supplies to look after them. Make sure to have a companion animal emergency kit ready and easy to access. Also make sure that everyone in the family knows where it is. The kit should include the relevant items below, or as much of it as you can take:
- their medications for 2 weeks, medical and vaccination records and vet details
- food, treats and water (eg. bottled) for 2 weeks. If you take canned food, make sure that they are pop-tops.
- feeding dishes
- a familiar blanket or bedding, toys and grooming equipment
- a secure animal carrier, leash and/or harness to move animals to safety
- newspaper, paper towels, disinfectant, rubbish bags and disposable litter trays for your animals' sanitary needs
- a covered bird cage (if you keep birds)
- up-to-date identification tags
- a current photograph for identification purposes (in case you are separated and need to make "Lost" posters)
- important phone numbers, such as: your vet, companion animal information and advisory services, RSPCA and/or local animal welfare agency, police, fire and ambulance, neighbours
You can check with your local council and other agencies on possible hazards, local emergency plans and what arrangements are in place regarding temporary animal shelters during times of major emergencies or disasters.
During an emergency it is important to remain informed about the latest developments. Essential information will be broadcast by radio and television, so tune in if you can. State and other government websites will also provide information. Remember to always follow the instructions of local and state officials.
After an emergency
There are a few things to be aware of after an emergency:
- Your animals' behaviour can change after an emergency. They might not recognise their surroundings, as often familiar scents and landmarks may be altered. In the days following the event, leash your animals when they go outside and keep close contact, until they become re-oriented. Monitor their behaviour closely — animals can become defensive and aggressive after a stressful event.
- Be aware of potentially dangerous animals that may have entered the area during the emergency.
- Check that your yard is secure and safe.
- If an animal is missing, contact your local RSPCA, pound and animal shelters to try to locate them. To assist in easily identifying you as the legal owner, it is recommended to keep a current photograph of your companion animal with you at all times.
Information for specific animal species
The information provided here can be applied to all companion animals, but there are many animal species, like birds, fish, reptiles and farmed animals, that require more specific care. If you are caring for any such animal, we recommend contacting specialised agencies, such as the RSPCA or your vet for further advice on your emergency plan.
Horses can become highly stressed in the aftermath of a fire and even the friendliest horse may be wary of humans, especially those they are not familiar with. As with many animals, microchipping can be helpful in reuniting you with your horse, however this does rely on the horse being able to be caught and/or handled. If you are unable to float your horse to safety during an emergency, an additional measure is to paint your phone number (and your name, if you can) on your horse using livestock grease crayons — as big as possible across the animal's side so that you can be reached if your horse is spotted.
Our friends at Quest Equine Welfare have provided a helpful guide for how to manage horses in the immediate aftermath of a bushire. You can download this here.