Estimates say 500,000 pets are affected by home fires each year, and this is the season when candles, fireplaces, outdoor lights and other hazards are used in full force. When a fire strikes, a person’s first instinct is to get the children and the pets out of the house. However, when making fire escape plans it is easy to overlook the animal residents of the household.
The best precaution is prevention. Check all holiday lights for frayed wiring and keep them out of reach of animals that might be tempted to chew on them. If lighting candles, keep them away from wagging tails or areas frequently visited by pets. Many stores these days are stocking flameless LED candles that seem to have a long battery life and flicker for that cozy effect of dancing shadows on the wall. At Halloween, that was all I used and they worked great.
Of course, there are the usual fire prevention tips, such as having a working fire extinguisher on each floor of the house and checking all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. There are even some unusual examples of measures to prevent pets from starting fire, such as removing stove knobs or covering them with protectors when leaving the house. The American Kennel Club released an article for National Pet Fire Safety Day on July 15 telling the story of Lucy, a curious dog in Ohio who went for a taste of a cake on top of the stove. When she did, she accidentally turned on a gas burner, filling the house with smoke as it burned the cake pan. Luckily, firefighters arrived in time and the house and Lucy were OK.
Should a fire break out despite all efforts to prevent one, there are some things a pet owner can do to make it easier to ensure animals’ safety. An article on the website of the Associated Humane Societies and Popcorn Park Zoo of New Jersey suggests keeping collars and leashes in a place where they can be easily accessed if getting out of the house quickly. While all my dogs have their collars and tags on all the time, this made me realize I should have their leashes hanging near the front door at all times instead of in the pantry. The last place I would go during a fire is a closet in the kitchen, the most likely place for a fire to start.
Another suggestion from that same article was if leaving the house keep pets in a room where firefighters will easily find them. This is a very wise idea, but if anybody else’s dogs are like mine this would entail an hour-long fight to rouse them from their various places of slumber and that room would no doubt be destroyed by their chewing sooner than by fire. The more practical idea is a sticker that is suggested by numerous animal groups to put in the window alerting firefighters that animals live in the house. There are various versions of the sticker, but in general they simply state in large letters “Pets live here!” and have check boxes for dogs, cats and other. The sticker should be displayed where rescuers can see it and, if time allows in an emergency, write “EVACUATED” on it if the animals have already been taken to safety. These stickers are usually available at pet stores, or free ones can be ordered at www.aspca.org/pet-care/disaster-preparedness/ or www.adt.com/pets.
In addition to ordering stickers, this ASPCA website includes suggestions for emergency preparedness kits to have ready to go in the event a person is displaced with a pet. There also are helpful tips for people with birds, reptiles and small animals.
One final word of caution: While many of us might assume pets will automatically run from a fire, an article from the SPCA of Texas says it is a myth that animals do not like fire. The warmth is appealing to them, it says. That being the case, pet owners need to protect pets from themselves.