The video, featured on the Time magazine website, shows a wet, starving, brown and white dog approaching the camera, barking and retreating into the distance.
The camera zooms in to reveal the dog has been sitting next to another white dog lying on the ground, apparently critically injured. The text on the screen says the film crew later took both dogs to a local animal shelter.
The video of the dog’s amazing survival through the Japanese tsunami and its heart-warming loyalty went viral on the Internet. But it also shows that pets can be the hidden victims of natural disasters when poor emergency planning does not factor in animals.
National and local emergency response authorities have a wide array of information available to help people keep their pets safe during an emergency.
“With animals, you want to prepare them like you do with family,” said Tyler Carson, an acting captain with the Sparks Fire Department, which carries oxygen equipment to help rescue household pets. “You have to make priorities. Ask yourself: ‘If I had five minutes to leave, what would I take.’ “
A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guide to pet evacuation said there are three phases of disaster readiness for pets: preparing for an emergency, during an emergency and after a disaster.
Before a disaster, an alternative shelter should be identified where the pet will be accepted. Some emergency shelters do not accept pets for public health reasons. Alternative shelters can include motels or residences of family or friends in the area.
FEMA and local experts suggest keeping pet food, water, veterinary records, a first-aid kit and other necessary supplies ready to go so a family can leave the house quickly if necessary.
“We strongly recommend you have a dog kennel, say if you have a dog,” said Lt. Bobby Smith, a field manager for Washoe County Regional Animal Services. “Also medicine, a muzzle, pet food and other necessities ready to go in your garage. We just don’t have that many shelters on hand for big emergencies.”
Owners should make sure their pets’ identification tags are up to date and fastened to each animal’s collar. Tags should include contact information. People also should keep a current photo of their pets for identification purposes, according to the FEMA guide.
The FEMA guide also recommends the “Animals in Emergencies for Owners” video that was made to help pet and livestock owners prepare their animals during emergencies.
The Humane Society of the United States recommends people coordinate getting help from neighbors in making an evacuation plan for pets or livestock in the event of an emergency.
If an owner is faced with needing to leave a pet behind during an emergency, FEMA says to not leave them tied up outside. Instead leave them in the house with plenty of water to drink and food to eat. If possible, raise the lid of the toilet so the pets can drink the water there, the FEMA site also recommends.
FEMA also suggests separating pets when evacuating an area. Even though they get along in a normal situation, animals can act irrationally and aggressively when under the stress of an emergency.
Have a portable emergency cage ready to go for birds, reptiles or any animal that needs a cage. Bring a thin sheet to provide security or filtered light for the caged animal.
Fish in aquariums might have to be left behind if the aquarium is too big to transport quickly, the FEMA guide said. Also, owners should take pets with them if they have to leave town after disaster. Pets often cannot survive on their own.
After a disaster, a pet’s behavior can become erratic and defensive. Owners should maintain close contact with their animals and try to create a safe, quiet atmosphere to calm the pets down.
Local emergency responders incorporate animals in their plans, but protecting human lives is their first priority.
“As a general rule we don’t put ourselves in harm’s way for animals if the danger is too great,” Carson said. “An exception is when we know that someone else is going to place themselves in danger removing or saving the animal.”
Smith said he saw the chaos that unprepared pet owners can cause when he responded to Hurricane Katrina, setting up relief shelters in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“Animal control just wasn’t prepared and people were sneaking animals in to the shelter,” Smith said. “It was a mess and caused a lot of confusion in an already horrible situation.”
In 2008, the Nevada Legislature passed a bill requiring the Nevada Department of Emergency Management to incorporate pets and livestock into emergency management planning, according to Smith.
Other states, such as Illinois and Louisiana, passed similar laws after Hurricane Katrina left many animals stranded or dead. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS), which requires local and state authorities to include evacuation plans for animals in order to qualify for federal grants and also authorized federal funds help create pet-friendly emergency shelters, according to a Humane Society of the United States press release.