The largest of the wildfires tearing through Southern California are now bigger than New York City and Boston combined, forcing thousands to evacuate the area—but what about their pets?
TV host Ellen DeGeneres brought this question front and center on Sunday, tweeting, "Our house is under threat of being burned. We just had to evacuate our pets." DeGeneres and her wife, Portia de Rossi, have a home in Carpinteria, CA, near Santa Barbara.
She's hardly the only animal lover who's concerned about the plight of their four-legged friends in the event of a disaster. One study by the University of California at Davis and the International Animal Welfare Training Institute found that 16.2% of people polled wouldn't evacuate their home without their pets. Some owners will even put their own lives at risk in an attempt to rescue their furry family members. In one extreme example during a 2009 bush fire in Australia, a dog owner jumped out of a rescue helicopter rather than leave her beloved pooch behind. Both were saved, but in some other cases, owners have been killed in the attempt to save their pets.
All of which just goes to prove that pets are indeed important members of the family who should have an escape plan in place in the event of a fire, flood, or other disaster. So just how is pet evacuation done, and what can pet owners do to prepare for the possibility?
Pet evacuation steps to take
Pete Duncanson, a disaster recovery expert with ServiceMaster Restore, says Step 1 is to just have a plan.
"It’s important to develop an evacuation plan, keep a map of it in plain sight, and practice an evacuation drill with your entire family—that includes your pets," Duncanson tells realtor.com®. "You should assign one person—an adult or parent—to keep track of the cat or dog, so that everyone, especially the kids, aren’t focused on looking for them during an emergency."
If your pet fits in a carrier, it's also important to keep it easily accessible.
"Most cat and dog owners leave their travel crates in a back corner of a garage," points out Los Angeles real estate expert and developer Tyler Drew. "Only, wildfires move very quickly. What looks like a fire over a few hills from your house can be on your doorstep within minutes if the winds are strong enough. So, make sure carriers are accessible and ready to go."
Separated from your pets? What to do
In case you and your pets get separated—say, you must evacuate while you're at work and are unable to get home—there are things you can do. For one, the ASPCA offers a free Rescue Alert Sticker that you should place prominently on a front door or window where you can indicate the types and number of pets in your home, as well as a place where you can write "EVACUATED" if you were able to—that way, rescue specialists who venture into dangerous areas will know whether your pets still need help or not.
Pet owners should also keep their animals' paperwork in order.
"Keep electronic copies of your pet’s medical records, including insurance cards, vaccinations, and chip finders, " Duncanson says. "Their medications should also be in a place where you can easily grab them if you have to evacuate. Also make sure you have electronic copies of recent photos in case you’re separated from them."
While microchips can help track down a pet, they're expensive to implant and don't offer real-time tracking of your pet's whereabouts. So if you're looking for other high-tech options, you might consider a digital ID tag like Pawscout ($20), which allows you to pinpoint your pet's exact GPS coordinates by smartphone.