We have run many, many articles about crate training in the past 21 years of publishing Whole Dog Journal. Though I’m sure at least one of those articles mentioned that an emergency evacuation is one very good reason to make sure your dog is comfortable in a crate, I’m not sure we ever gave it more space than a single sentence in a long article about crating.
Recent events, however, have prompted me to spend this entire editorial talking about this very compelling reason to help your dog learn how to happily spend time in a crate.
Dogs who quickly and willingly get into a crate save critical minutes in an extreme emergency evacuation. In some cases during the evacuation from the tragic Camp Fire, which started on November 8 near my town and burned for weeks, killing at least 88 people and countless animals, minutes made the difference between survival and death.
Also, animals who were securely contained in crates were easily moved from vehicle to vehicle, or carried by rescuers to safety. Many pets who were or got loose during the firestorm perished as their owners fled for their own lives.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing blog posts about the massive animal rescue efforts being made by volunteers in my community (you can read those posts on our blog site). I have been volunteering in the shelters that have been housing animals who were safely evacuated by their owners and left at the shelters (because the owners couldn’t keep their pets with them for any number of reasons) as well as the animals that have been rescued from the fire zone by firefighters, police, utility workers, and animal rescue teams.
All of the animals being held at the emergency shelters – more than 2,000 dogs, cats, birds, and other pets at the height of the event – are being held in crates: wire crates for the most part and a few in the plastic airline-style crates. As I write this, many of those animals have been living in those crates for more than three weeks. Of course, the cat cages are cleaned daily and the dogs are taken outside to potty, but sadly, given the sheer number of dogs that volunteers need to walk, the time that each dog spends outside of the crate is very short.
This is far from an ideal situation, but the dogs who obviously had experience in crates were far less traumatized by their time in the crowded shelters than the dogs who freaked out every time they had to go back into a crate after a potty walk. This broke the heart of every volunteer who was there to help care for the dogs, including me. I’ll never forget the elderly Boxer-mix who spent weeks moaning and pressing her head to the front of her crate. If only she felt that her crate was a safe place, not a hellish punishment.