Leaving town? Make sure a “go bag” is available to your pets’ caretaker before you leave!


Last week I attended a conference out of town (it was put on by the Shelter Playgroup Alliance, very cool stuff). For several reasons, I brought Boone, the latest addition to our family (my husband is fine with taking care of our adult dogs, but he’s a little inattentive for the constant supervision required for destruction prevention by a five-month-old puppy, and also, because my go-to puppy-sitting friend attended the conference, too!). Boone handled himself like a champ and benefitted from a lot of terrific socialization opportunities from a very educated, dog-friendly group of people.

Here’s the one thing that stopped my heart for a minute: Receiving a text from a friend that said, “Doing ok? Fire.”

You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the fact that the entire Western U.S. is experiencing a years-long drought, which has been contributing to longer and ever-more destructive wildland fires. Historically, the so-called “fire season” in California has been considered to be about July through October. But it seems to start earlier every year and last longer; the devastating Camp Fire of 2018 (located in my county) started on November 8! This is the fire that seared onto my brain the need for pet owners to prepare for emergencies (I wrote about my experiences helping evacuated animals here, here, and here.)

When I’m home, I monitor various new sources for any alerts about fires in my county, not only so that I can respond appropriately to a fire in our immediate area, but also so I can respond quickly to serve as a volunteer for the emergency animal response organization in our area (the North Valley Animal Disaster Group [NVADG]). I follow Cal Fire and several of its local sub-accounts on Twitter, starting with the one that serves my area, Cal Fire Butte Unit. There is also a Facebook page, Butte Wx Spotter, that quickly posts any sort of fire, flood, or another environment-based disaster in my area.

But when I’m at a conference, I don’t look at my phone nearly as often, so I didn’t see any of these pages lighting up with news about a fire that started less than 12 miles from my home. Ack! Twelve miles is nothing in a strong wind-driven fire. 2020’s North Complex fire traveled more than 20 miles in a few hours, prompting our evacuation at 11 pm.

Fortunately, because I do follow all of those sources, I was able to quickly ascertain that while the fire was relatively close to my home, Cal Fire responded quickly and forcefully enough to squash it within a few hours.

The event has put me on full alert for the rest of the summer – and hit me over the head with a reminder that I had not prepared a “go bag” that would have been accessible to my husband had he needed to evacuate from our property with our two adult dogs. I know from past experience, both as a person who has had to evacuate from our property in the middle of the night due to a fast-moving fire, and as someone who volunteers with NVADG  caring for pets who were evacuated from other fires, that having a go-bag ready to grab at a moment’s notice can make a huge difference to one’s peace of mind in case of an evacuation. For example, if my husband had to evacuate with our dogs, but left Otto’s pain medications behind, our poor old guy would be in serious discomfort until we could get refills. If we had to board the dogs somewhere because our house burned down, or show proof of vaccination to stay in a shelter, and didn’t have the dogs’ vaccination records, we’d be stuck (especially if, as in the case of the Camp fire, many veterinary and doctor offices burned down, too, leaving people with NO health records at all!).

If I was home, I could have put the 2022 version of the go bag together in a few minutes – but explaining to my husband where everything was would have been ridiculously complicated. Lesson learned. Now that I’m safely home, I’ve put that together and showed my husband where it’s located.

What should be in your dog’s “go bag”? At a bare minimum, it should contain at least a few days’ supply of any medications he takes or might need in a high-stress situation, and copies of his vaccination records. If your dog becomes anxious in cars or in new situations, and you have a prescription for a sedative medication, I’d keep some of that medication in the go bag as well. You can also include extra collars, leashes, ID tags, and bowls, and perhaps a few cans of food (less perishable than dry food). The go bag is a great place to store your pet-first-aid kit and your dog’s muzzle if he’s a bite-risk in chaotic situations and you’ve already habituated him to wearing one.

Fires are the biggest threat in my part of the country, but floods and tornadoes are reasons for quick evacuations elsewhere. Consider this my annual reminder to GET READY!

For more information on emergency preparedness, see:



  1. When I read your previous experience with the fire, that, along with a shooting at a church that necessitated the evacuation of nearby homes (we live near a church), I was prompted to put together such a “go bag” for us and our dogs and cats. I bought a little duffel bag and I’ve got extra leashes, extra harnesses, extra collars with tags (both name tags and a duplicate rabies tag I requested from our vet), vaccination records, a soft blanket, and bowls. I haven’t got any food, but I think I’m going to get some dog and cat food to put in (excellent suggestion). I keep the duffel bag in the car, so they only thing we need to get in the event of an emergency evacuation is the two dogs, the two cats, and the two cat carriers. Our dogs travel in crates in the car, so they’ll have crates, too, should they need them. I have another little duffel bag for us with some clean underwear, clean socks, and a couple of old t-shirts in there.

  2. Ugh! Scary stuff! We live in hurricane country and every year between June 1st and late october i pray that noti g big comes our way…
    We have 12 dogs, 3 cats, 7 horses and now 5 donkeys, plus 9 alpacas….it would be a disaster…
    We have evacuated before but it was so so stressful!
    Gotta get enugh collars and leashes and the rabies tags…
    We have Coggins for the equines….

  3. SUCH good advice. At least with some weather events, like hurricanes, you usually have several days to prepare. But other emergencies can happen in a very short time. We live in the Midwest, so “Tornado Season” is always a concern. And the scary weather events, not to mention man-made ones, come much more frequently these days. I pray that everyone stays safe!