Denise Fleck Pet Safety Expert Tells Us How To Create An Emergency Plan

No one likes to think of an emergency or natural disaster happening, but they do. The wise thing is to create a plan for every member of your family – including your four-footed ones. That’s why we’re talking to Denise Fleck, Pet Safety Expert today who shares how to create an Emergency Plan with your cats and pets.

Readers, I will say the biggest thing I learned from this interview with Denise Fleck is the importance of being prepared. She offers many helpful tips on how to be proactive and get organized in case you need to act in an emergency or natural disaster situation. Take the time to create a plan for you and your pet – you deserve to have that special care plan in place!

We’re very lucky to have Ms. Fleck join us; she has founded Sunny-dog Ink to Help People Help Their Pets. She offers a 5-hour Pet First Aid & CPR Class, which offers hands-on experience and textbook that she has authored. Ms. Fleck has assisted Homeland Security with their K9 Border Patrol First-Aid Program. She also has her own Pet First-Aid Kits. This year she won Children’s Book of the Year for her debut story, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover,’ which teaches kids 0-99 not to judge books, people, pets or anything by outward appearances. The story is based loosely on her black Labrador Mr. Rico and expresses her love for senior pets and reminds everyone that “pets are part of the family.” Ms. Fleck is also highly recognized as an expert, and was named as a Finalist as the Pet Industry’s Woman of the Year. She also had the privilege of speaking not only at the Women in the Pet Industry Conference in Portland but also at the Pet Sitters International conference in Indianapolis during 2014. Visit her site for additional pet safety tips and to learn more about Denise! Why is having an emergency preparedness plan so important?

Denise Fleck: Quoting lyrics from John Lennon, “Life happens while we are making other plans.”  Hopefully you will never experience a fire destroying your home, yet you plan ahead — install fire alarms, smoke detectors and purchase insurance. You certainly hope never to be involved in a car accident, but you have airbags and wear a seat belt (and should safely restrain your kitty, making sure the carrier is restrained as well). Being prepared makes sense as we can minimize potential injury to those we love. It takes things off your worry list and allows you to stay calm and jump to the task to help your cat the best way you know how. What exactly IS an emergency preparedness plan? Does it differ, depending on what area of the U.S.A. or world that you live in?

Denise Fleck: An emergency preparedness plan is a strategy you have laid out that should include items needed to take care of humans and animals, a means to evacuate all of you safely and calmly, potential destinations to which you can go together and people who will help your pets if you are not available.  In a little more detail:

a) Pet Alert Sticker near your front door alerting First Responders what pets live inside.  Do remove or cross it out if you evacuate your pets when you leave (which you should) so that responders don’t spend time searching for pets who aren’t there.

b) Pre-arranged meeting place that all family members know how to get to.  Obviously it should be one that accepts pets so know this in advance and have several back-ups.

c) Stash food, water, medicines, cleaning supplies, cash in small bills, litter/scoops/pans, pet vaccination & health records, photos of your cat & photos of your cat with you, kitty carrier, harness/collar, battery-operated flashlight & radio as well as human items in an easily accessible area.  Possibly one in the house and one in the car.  And don’t forget a Pet First-Aid Kit for cut paws, upset stomachs or whatever else happens.

d) Prepare for specific disasters depending on where you live. How does your pet fit into your emergency preparedness plan? I can think of the example of being sure you have extra pet food or even medications if your pet takes them on hand, ready to travel or stay put. But what else should you be sure to do to take care of your cat or pet?

Denise Fleck: First off, EVERY family member needs to learn how to wrangle the family pets as you never know who will be home when disaster strikes.  Cats in particular become aware of impending doom before humans, and will start hiding, so at the first moment’s notice, get kitty’s in a comfy carrier with a blanket so you won’t be struggling to locate or capture them once things become chaotic.  Even if your cat doesn’t normally wear a collar, having one with a current ID tag on it is important should you evacuate, and please have your kitty microchipped making sure the microchip company has your most up-to-date contact information in their computer system.  In addition to food (particularly canned since cats are notoriously bad water drinkers and could become dehydrated in a stressful situation), water (1/2 gallon per day per cat), medication, disposable litter pans, litter, scoops, paper towel, disinfectant spray and the like, make sure you have your cat’s vaccination and health records so she won’t require additional shots if evacuating to Shelter and…have good clear pictures of your cat and pictures of you with your cat to serve as proof of ownership and identification.  If kitty has unusual markings, obtain photographs from various sides which could serve as a “finger print” of your beloved feline. One more thing I would add is that learning how to use a simple slip lead or travel leash and turn it into a Figure 8 Harness (see attached photos) can prove priceless.  You slip the loop over kitty’s head and then make the 2nd circle of the Figure 8 by wrapping the leash around her chest and then slipping the handle through the “o” or “d” ring and pulling to secure.  It might make the difference between kitty darting from her carrier or you maintaining control and safely keeping hold of your cat! A lot of people get nervous or stressed during an emergency so it is easy to imagine that a cat or pet would also. What symptoms or signs can a pet parent look for that your cat is overstressed by the emergency, and what can you do help soothe them?

Denise Fleck: Animals are perceptive to our emotions and pick up on our feelings, so the best thing is to be prepared so that we can stay calm and emit that vibe ourselves.  Don’t coddle them too much, but act as though life is good.  Cats generally hide when anxious, but any change in behavior exhibits stress meaning something is not quite right with them.  If it is low grade stress building up, you may notice they are not eating or not eliminating as they should.  There are items that prove helpful to dogs (like wearing a snug t-shirt) so if your cat is so inclined, you might try something like that.  Aromatherapy mists can alleviate stress in their canine counterparts but most are not recommended for the more delicate feline systems, although most concur that Rescue Remedy is safe and may minimize distress in cats. Should you put one person in charge of the cat or pet(s) during an emergency preparedness plan (for example an evacuation) or should everyone in the family help?

Denise Fleck: There absolutely can be a designated cat wrangler but depending on the size of your family, everyone should be able to perform the task as there is no guarantee who will be home with the cat when the time comes to evacuate.  Additionally, it is wise to appoint 2-3 humans outside the family (generally neighbors who would have easy access to your home) to assist your pets if you are not available.  Do make sure these people are on board with this duty and that you give them clear and specific instructions.  Maybe you can make a mutual agreement to do the same for their pets if they are not available. If you have some advance warning (a few days or so) that an emergency weather situation is coming your way – what “must have’s” and “must do’s” should you prepare for your cat’s safety and comfort?

Denise Fleck: 

The one good thing to be said about Hurricanes is that they are predictable — The National Hurricane Center tracks weather patterns and notes possible disturbances long before they pose a threat. It’s imperative that you monitor your local news channels and once a Hurricane Watch is issued, realize you have 24 – 36 hours before it hits, so do the following:

· Keep pets indoors and easily accessible should you need to suddenly pack them up and leave. Cats can sense impending doom and often hide, so get them into a carrier early.
· Stay tuned to news stations for evacuation routes and make sure you completely understand the plan.
· Have at least one week’s food, water and any medications stored for your pets and prep your house for the storm (board-up windows, stow away items that can blow such as patio furniture, secure gates, etc.).
A Hurricane Warning is issued when the storm is 24 hours away or less. Complete all preparations before the rains and high winds arrive, and stay in your home only if it is safe. If you evacuate, take Fido and Fluffy with you.

Once underway, Wildfires can consume millions of acres and blow in changing directions. For this reason, you should plan several escape routes for you and your pets in the event the flames block your path.
· Create a “fire break” around your home by clearing away vegetation, especially dead brush, about 30 feet from all structures.
· Use fabric, rope or leather leashes and collars. Nylon ones melt when heated and can badly burn your pet.
· Take all animals with you. Monitor your pets for burns and smoke inhalation. Knowing how to perform Rescue Breathing & CPR could save your pet’s life!

Unlike most natural disasters, there is no advanced warning for an earthquake allowing no time for last minute precautions. In addition to covering the three steps above:
· Never position dog runs, crates or enclosures underneath objects that could fall during a tremor.
· Add a pair of bolt cutters to your disaster kit in case damaged cages or fencing need opening.
· Know where to turn off the gas to your house, barn or kennels.
· Include your pets in the family earthquake drill and make sure all family members know how to handle them realizing that a frightened pet may bite or scratch.
· If you board your pet, make sure the facility knows of your earthquake preparedness plans.
Should an earthquake occur, confine your pets. Pets that escape sometimes return at mealtime, but there are no guarantees! Be prepared to handle cut and burned paws, know how to splint broken bones and stop bleeding in humans and animals alike — take a Pet First-Aid Class before you wish you had.

Flooding can occur in any part of the world and can even be confined to only your home or apartment building. Every year though hundreds of thousands of people are forced to evacuate due to rising water. Slowly rising water is usually due to rivers, streams or even a pipe leak in your home. Flash floods however can hit quickly caused by heavy rain or melting snow as well as failure to a dam or reservoir.
· Map out several evacuation routes for yourself and your four-legged family; don’t rely on only one which may be in the path of the floodwater. Head for the nearest high ground with your pets, and it is always better to err on the side of caution and evacuate early. If it is a false alarm, you and your family have practiced a meaningful drill instead of the real thing.
· Never leave any animal behind or certainly don’t tie up an animal if flood waters threaten. You can not anticipate how high water may rise, so even birds enclosed on high perches could perish.
Remember that danger of disease can be an issue after a flood. Keep pets away from standing water. Have a good fresh supply of water on hand for everyone. One thing that we’ve seen happen during Hurricane Katrina is owners getting separated from their pets, or refusing to leave for shelter because they could not take their pets with them. The thought of losing your cat or pet during an emergency is unbearable, simply unthinkable but it does happen. What should you do BEFORE an emergency to prepare – in case you and your pet get separated? What should you do IN CASE you and your pet do get separated?

Denise Fleck: Microchips registered with your most current contact information is imperative.  Have your Veterinarian scan your cat on his or her annual visit to give you peace of mind that they chip is working.  Also have a collar and ID tag standing by (even if your indoor cat doesn’t wear daily) and have good clear pictures of your pets in your emergency kit that can be used to make flyers should kitty go missing.  Select these photos in advance but change as kitty ages and no longer looks like her photo.  Additionally make sure you have a photo of all the pets with all the family members so that can be used as proof of ownership that the cat belongs to you (or vice versa).  It’s great for all of your important information (household insurance down to the cat’s microchip number and vaccination records) to be uploaded onto a flash drive.  One you keep and another send to a well-trusted out-of-area relative or friend incase computer systems aren’t working where you and the disaster are. How do you recommend pet parents/cat lovers involved their children in an emergency plan that involves cats/pets? Children are likely to be worried about their cats/pets at this time and will want to help, but some of it may be too much for them.

Denise Fleck: Have practice drills and get kids involved in creating the cat’s emergency kit, keeping it well stocked and alerting you when it’s time to change out the food and other items.  I did an episode of “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life” entitled…Preparation K, where Kirstie had all of her staff attempt to safely evacuate the animals.  It showed that if you haven’t done this, boy…are there going to be challenges you need to overcome, so for kids…let it be a game.  Practice makes perfect and if they know what they are doing, everyone will be less stressed when the real thing occurs.  Give everyone assignments (and they next practice rotate), set a time, make sure everyone performs their task calmly and thoroughly and reward when you are done!  It works for our pets and it works for us, so have a family picnic or gathering to celebrate a job well done! What are some of the “don’t’s” about creating an emergency preparedness plan with your pet? Things you should be hesitant to do?

Denise Fleck: Don’t think it won’t happen to you!  I have a lot of pet first aid students who get overly prepared hoping that because they are, they will never have to put their plan into action, yet…they are prepared should all heck break lose.  Learn Pet First-Aid &CPCR (yes, there’s now a 2nd “C” for cerebral), have your cat’s tool kit (first aid, food and other items) up-to-date and readily accessible and make that plan on who will help get kitty and where.  The biggest mistake people make is not being thoroughly prepared.  Remember as prepared as you are, YOU may not be home when your cat needs you, so you need back up and you need to make sure your designated caregivers are as prepared as you are.  Preparing for the worst just may prevent the worst from happening! How can you introduce the idea of an emergency preparedness plan for cats & pets to the entire family?

Denise Fleck: Earlier this year I released a book entitled “Pet First Aid for Kids” that is available on my website and on Amazon.  It would be a great conversation starter for the whole family to get together and learn to help the family cat while giving children the confidence to be that special care provider for their furry best friend.

Thank you so much for visiting today Denise Fleck & sharing such helpful tips about pet safety & emergency preparedness plans!

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