Sarah Gustafson was getting her tires changed on the Santa Barbara side of Santa Ynez Mountains when she noticed a pillar of smoke rising on the other side of the range, near her home.
She immediately panicked, realizing her six beloved cats were trapped at home.
“It was my worst-case scenario,” said Sarah, who works at a veterinary hospital. “I wasn’t home, I wasn’t able to get there and I had to evacuate.”
Once her tires were changed, Sarah navigated around road closures. She eventually made her way over the mountain range, as the fire quickly grew to engulf more than 3,000 acres.
Sarah managed to cram her six cats into her car. She then spent the night in the parking lot of a nearby shelter.
Not an ideal situation.
Sarah was among the nearly 8,000 California residents who were forced to evacuate their homes in the spate of recent wildfires across the state — many of them with pets.
What about you? In the event a wildfire should threaten your home, do you have an evacuation plan in place that includes your furry or feathered companions?
The ASPCA recommends these simple steps to ensure pet safety when evacuating during a disaster:
Display an emergency pet alert sticker on or near your front door. These stickers are available through the ASPCA and pet supply stores. They’ll let rescue workers know the types and number of pets in your home.
Arrange for a safe haven for your pets. Not all emergency shelters will accept pets, so it’s important that you identify the ones that do ahead of time. Ask your vet or a local animal shelter to recommend an appropriate facility. Also, identify motels that accept pets. Or ask friends or family if they’d be willing to accommodate your pet in the event of an emergency evacuation.
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Make sure all of your pets wear collars and tags with current identification information. The ASPCA also strongly recommends microchipping for permanent identification.
Store leashes and an emergency evacuation kit close to an exit in your home. The kit should include pet first aid, three to seven days’ worth of pet food, pet medicines and medical records, and bottled water. (For a complete list of emergency evacuation items, click here, to download FEMA’s “Preparedness for Pets” brochure.)
The ASPCA also offers a free mobile app, explaining exactly what to do when evacuating with pets.
In addition, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) recommends the following:
During Hurricane Katrina, an estimated 44% of the New Orleans residents who refused to evacuate did so because they would not leave their pets behind. Many of them perished alongside their beloved companion animals.
As a result, less than a year later, Congress enacted the Pet Evacuation Transportation Standards (PETS) Act of 2006 in a bipartisan effort. The act authorizes FEMA to rescue, shelter and care for people with pets and service animals.
The following video clip demonstrates why this new legislation was necessary:
So now, if a wildfire or other natural disaster should require you to evacuate your home, you won’t have to leave anyone behind.
And that’s a good thing.