Hey, it’s September! Long-time readers know what that means! It’s time for Nancy’s annual reminder to PLEASE habituate your dog (and cats, and other pets!) to being in a crate! Why is September that time? How about for these reasons?
September just seems like the time when the crises pile one on top of the other – the natural disasters stack up. And any natural disaster that affects people, affects people’s pets.
Hurricanes and flooding, wildfire, earthquakes, tornadoes – there really isn’t anywhere in the United States that’s completely safe. Anyone could be fine one day and forced to evacuate their hometown the next. And when people need to evacuate or take shelter somewhere away from home, the safest place for their pets is safely confined in a crate.
So that brings me to my first recommendation: Have enough solid crates in an appropriate size for your dogs and other pets, in good working order, ready and available to you at the drop of a hat. NOT “Oh, I think there is one in the garage” (or barn rafters, or behind the shed). Not the one you brought the puppy home in and she barely fits in there anymore. I am talking about crates that are ready and tested, clean and not missing the parts they need to hold them together. (Although, if you are missing screws or bolts, heavy-duty plastic zip-ties work great for putting crates together fast in an emergency.)
Also, if you have three cats, including one who hates the other two, and two big dogs, you need at least four crates – and will they all fit in your car? With the humans who also need to evacuate if necessary?
Now, you may say, “If it’s a true run-for-your-life emergency, I will just stuff them in any dusty old crate and they will have to cope.” Okay, say you manage well enough in this configuration until you get to safety: Now what? Where will you stay while you are waiting days for the water to subside – or weeks while the wildfires keep your area off-limits to all but emergency personnel? Are you staying with friends or relatives? Will your pets be fine cohabitating with your hosts’ pets? Will you be staying at a hotel? Some may turn you away if you arrive with uncontained cats. If your pets are quiet and calm, and securely contained in crates that are large enough for their comfort, you will be a step ahead in finding a place to stay with them.
If your best plan is staying at a shelter, you may or may not be able to have your pets with you. Emergency shelters for natural-disaster victims vary. The best (in my opinion) will actually provide crates, litter boxes and litter, dishes and dog and cat food, and allow you to keep your pets with you, next to your Red Cross cot.
But in many emergency shelters, pets are not allowed – and if you have no place for them to stay, your dogs and cats will have to stay at an emergency animal shelter, where they will undoubtedly be living in crates. Volunteers will get them out at least twice a day to go potty, three or more times if your area’s disaster has been highly localized, as with a tornado or in an area where only one wildfire is burning. But if you live in one of the fire-stricken areas in northern California right now, you may discover that volunteers are stretched thin – there are multiple large fires that have evacuated millions of acres of land – and so the care for the animals may be minimal at best: your pets will be kept safe and fed, but dogs may have to endure cramped conditions and full bladders, or quite messy conditions in their crates, for longer than you can imagine.
I know: Nobody wants to imagine this. But a disaster is a disaster, and nothing is perfect in a disaster. The only thing that can make a disaster less disastrous is preparation: Having your family, human and nonhuman alike, ready for an evacuation at a moment’s notice. You can get started today – at least in compiling the things that you would need to stay away from your home with your pets for a few weeks, things like crates, food bowls, tethers and extra leashes and harnesses, pee-pads, any medicines they need, and so on. But to truly make them comfortable and secure, you need to practice putting them in the crates and teaching them to be happy in them.
If your dog is seriously crate-phobic, and you live in a disaster prone area (say, Louisiana during hurricane season or the western states during wildfire season), and a hurricane or fire is headed your way, get on the phone now to ask your veterinarian if you could get a prescription for medication that would help keep your dog calm if you had to evacuate. (Note: The October issue has an article that will help you retrain a crate-hating dog.)