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:
- Have an escape route – have more then one way out of your home and off your property and practice with your pets.
- Know Your Pets’ Hiding Places – this is where pets are most likely to be when they get scared.
- Secure Your Pet – always evacuate your pet on a leash or in a carrier, in case they panic and bolt outside.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.