Pet Fire Safety

Many of us hope unexpected events in our lives will never happen or they just exist in our minds.  But some basic statistics may put things in perspective – over half a million pets in the US are affected by house fires each year and a devastating 40,000 pets are killed. What does this mean for a responsible pet parent?



Tips for Cat People

Cats don’t usually come when you call. You need to know where they hide when they’re stressed and scared.  Watch your cat and see where it goes when you turn on the vacuum cleaner, when people she doesn’t know come to visit, or when you test your smoke alarm. Wherever your cat disappears to right then is probably where she’ll be in a fire.

The first objective in a house fire is to get yourself to safety but if you do have time to get your cat, be prepared.  Learn to grab your cat by the scruff of the neck.

This means latching onto the right place on the back of your cat’s neck so you can carry it without getting bitten. Once you’ve grabbed the cat pillowcases make great emergency carriers or have a cat carrier available.

Cats may run out of the house during an emergency so be prepared by having ID tags on your cat’s collar, micro-chipping it and make sure your neighbors are familiar with the cat and know its name.  Only two percent of cats brought to rescue facilities are ever reunited with their owners.

Tips for Dog People

It is important that your neighbors know your dog’s name. If the dog is loose in the neighborhood, it will respond better to someone who knows its name.

The other reason for having your neighbors know your dog’s name is if you’re unconscious in your home, the dog may, in an effort to protect you, try keeping emergency crews from entering the property. If the firefighters get your dog’s name from neighbors it can help soften the interaction.

All dogs should be taught to come when called. In case of fire this good training can be a lifesaver.  Obedience training is crucial to successful dog ownership anyway, but in situations like this it becomes vital. The key is to practice calling your dog when it’s urgent.  Otherwise, your dog could pick up on the stress in your voice and be reluctant to come to you as you exit the building, choosing to hide instead.

Teach your dog a certain word that you include in calling him like “NOW” and stressing on the importance of coming “NOW”.  Your dog needs to be trained to respond to it and stay consistent with the training and words and reward your dog when it does respond.  It’s important that the dog learns that coming to you means coming to a positive experience and not just going to the vet or leaving the park.

Once those steps are routine, you’ll want to train under distracting circumstances, too. You will be glad you did, should you ever need to persuade your dog to follow you through smoke, noise and flashing lights.

Simple prevention that will notify you of a fire? 

Make sure your smoke alarm works.

House fires are not the only fires to be alert to.  Wildfire and forest fires happen and sometimes you do not get much notice when it comes to evacuating.

If you happen to see a forest or wild fire:

  • Call 9-1-1 and report it, never assume that someone else has already done it.
  • Have an evacuation kit and an emergency plan ready (kit should include copies of all valuable papers, mementos, pet information, etc.).

Before the fire approaches your home:

  • Evacuate immediately and take your pets.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft.  Open the damper to the fireplace if you have one and close the fireplace screen.
  • Close all outside attic, eaves, and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors.
  • Remove all flammable drapes and curtains, close the shutters, blinds or any heavy  non-combustible window coverings that will help reduce radiant heat.
  • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source (knowing      where these are should be in your disaster plan).
  • Connect garden hoses, fill pools, hot tubs, garbage can, tubs and other type of      container that will hold water.
  • Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so that the doors can still be opened by  hand if the power goes out. Close all garage doors to discourage      unwelcomed guests.
  • Load your car with your evacuation kits, plan, pets, family members, etc.
  • Make your home more visible in heavy smoke by turning on all lights outside and inside.
  • If you are not able to evacuate, stay in your home and close the windows and doors to prevent as many drafts as possible.

The key to dealing with fire is be alert and prepared.  When you’re developing your family emergency evacuation plan, be sure to include your pet and practice it.  Your emergency evacuation plan should also include an evacuation kit and a detailed, written document that includes who you are, who are your pets, and copies of any other vital document to shows proof of ownership. Don’t forget to include shot records.

Precautions to consider in your plan:

  1. Have an escape route – have more then one way out of your home and off your property and practice with your pets.
  2. Know Your Pets’ Hiding Places – this is where pets are most likely to be when they get scared.
  3. Secure Your Pet – always evacuate your pet on a leash or in a carrier, in case they panic and bolt outside.
  4. Prepare Emergency Kit For Your Pet – include food, water, bowls, cat litter & pan, medications or prescriptions and vet paperwork since you might have to board your pet in the event your home is not habitable. Also include a photo of your pets in case they get lost, shot records, proof of ownership.
  5. Display Window Stickers To Alert Rescue Workers – firemen are familiar with pet rescue stickers/clings  and those should be displayed in windows around the home. To obtain safety stickers get them at local pet stores or ADT Security Services, or through the ASPCA.  Make sure stickers are clearly visible and include the types and number of pets, your vet’s name & phone number. Keep your stickers updated.
  6. Invest In Pet Fire Alert Collar – this innovative product works together with your home smoke detector and allows you to locate your pet as the collar flashes and sounds off when your smoke detector goes off.

Protecting your pets from fire is important so include them in your family disaster plan and have an evacuation kit for them.  Don’t leave your pets.  Arrange for a safe place for them to stay.

Joyce Rheal is Emergency Planning Committee chairwoman of the National Association Professional Pet Sitters and with Pets-life. Joyce is also a federally certified for FEMA’s “Animals in Disasters” program, and a certified pet care consultant based in Southern Illinois.

The Superstition of Black Cats

What is a black cat?  It is a feline with black fur and can either be a specific or a mixed breed.  A cat known for the sleek black fur is the Bombay and their high melanin pigment results in cats having yellow or golden eyes.

Are black cats bad luck?  Depending on specific cultures black cats are considered either good or bad luck. Japan, Great Britain, Scotland, and Ireland symbolizes the black cat as good luck.  So if a strange black cat arrives at a home it signifies prosperity.  A fairy known at Cat Sith in Celtic mythology does take the form of a black cat and yet the people of the Scottish Highlands did not trust the Cat Sìth because it was believed that it could steal a person’s soul before it was claimed by the Gods by passing over a corpse before burial.  It is also believed that a woman owning a black cat will have many suitors.

The Western and Southern European cultures looks upon black cats as symbols of evil omens and familiars with witches.  We have all heard the story if a black cat crosses your path you now have misfortune, death, or bad luck.  In Germany when a black cat crosses a person’s path going from left to right it is a good luck while right to left, it is a bad omen.



Most casino players believe that black cat crossing their path as they go to gamble will bring them bad luck and they should not go into the casino to gamble.

Some cultures believe that the black cat is able to change from human to cat acting as a spy or courier for witches or demons.  When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth rock they also brought with them their devout faith in the Bible, which deepened the suspicion that the black cat was of the devil because they viewed the black cat as a companion or familiar to witches.  So anyone caught with a black cat was punished or killed because they were thought to be practicing sorcery and teamed up with the devil.

This superstition had led to the death of many black cats, even during the Middle Ages.  Unfortunately this superstition in Europe had unintended consequence because the killing of the cats allowed for the rat population to grow which then spread the Black Death known as bubonic plague and various other diseases carried by rodents.

Fishermen and their families viewed black cats positively and sailor’s considered them to be the ship’s cat because it brought them good luck.  Wives of fishermen kept black cats at home in hopes that it would influence the protection of their husbands while at sea.

The Egyptian Goddess Bastet favored the black cats, she was known as the cat goddess and Egyptian households believed that if they hosted black cats in their homes, they would gain the favor of  Bastet.  This view was held until the early 17th Century even by the monarch Charles 1 and upon the death of his treasured black cat, it is said that his good luck rain out and the next day he had been arrested and charged with high treason.

Even Pirates had their superstition in the 19th Century.  It was bad luck if the black cat walked towards a person and good luck if the cat walked away.  As well if a black cat walked on a ship and then walked off, the ship was doomed to sink.

Black cats and black animals in general are less likely to be adopted from shelters because of these superstitions.  Even some shelters suspend the adoptions of black animals during Halloween to protect them from being tortured, killed, and from being used as “living decorations” and then abandoned afterwards.

To help ward off the superstitions of the black cat August 17 has become Black Cat Appreciation Day.

Is a black cat good or bad luck?  Is it just cat?  It all depends on ones cultural believes, myself a black cat is a black cat.  Have a safe and happy Halloween and keep all your pets in and secured during the festivals.

Joyce Rheal is Emergency Planning Committee chairwoman of the National Association Professional Pet Sitters and with Pets-life. Joyce is also a federally certified for FEMA’s “Animals in Disasters” program, and a certified pet care consultant based in Southern Illinois.