If This Had Been an Actual Emergency…

Greetings Bored Surfer and welcome to another fun and exciting edition of BLOG blog!

September has arrived and it offers its own array of interesting holidays. Please enjoy these occasions responsibly.

September 4 is National Lazy Mom Day, the perfect day for you to do your own laundry and order take-out while she lounges on the couch and eats bonbons.

It’s not my fault that Blame Someone Else Day falls on the 13th but I do recommend that you make the most of it.

While one day a year does not seem like nearly enough, Sep 21 is listed as “International Day of Peace”.

September 22 is Elephant Appreciation Day. I personally recommend you appreciate them from a safe distance. Be sure to appreciate the fact that you don’t have to feed or clean up after them.

Although the previously mentioned September holidays all sound wonderful, the focus of this BLOG blog shall be Sep 15, Get Ready Day.

In hindsight, 2020 has provided a good reason to be prepared for an assortment of unpleasant events. You might not have been ready for a pandemic, civil unrest and murder hornets in addition to the annual parade of storm activity. If you are not yet ready for whatever the next calamity will be, now is a good time to start planning. You may have some inkling during what season your location is likely to be beset by a wildfire, blizzard, flood, mudslide, tornado, nor’easter, or hurricane/typhoon/tropical cyclone. Other disasters (such as a chemical spill, volcanic eruption, earthquake, alien invasion, tsunami, secret military experiment gone awry, economic collapse, locust swarm, nuclear meltdown, burning hail, and darkness three days long) have no respect for calendars and require constant vigilance.

Disasters come in many varieties. They also vary greatly in scale, from a fire affecting only your home to a derecho wreaking havoc for miles and miles. You may have enough advance notice to relocate to an area not likely to be affected.

You may have little warning or not be able to leave your house. Take a little time to ponder possible scenarios and the requirements for an appropriate response. Your needs will vary greatly depending on your location, your family composition, your financial situation and your physical health. You may not be able to prepare specifically for all circumstances, but you can take some steps to safeguard you and your loved ones in difficult situations.

While the topic of preparing for an emergency may call to mind filling your basement with MREs (three lies for the price of one), toilet paper and silver bullets, there are many, many other facets to consider. There are many sources of information on the subject and some are more informative than others (The Zombie Survival Guide was not as useful as I had hoped it would be). The main sources used for this composition are the American Red Cross (redcross.org), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema.gov), the US Department of Homeland Security (ready.gov) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov). I also gleaned a lot of information from a webinar (on the FEMA website) called Animal Emergency Preparedness:Physical and Psychological Planning for Your Pet During Natural Disasters. These sites have extensive checklists and step by step instructions for your convenience. To avoid being completely overwhelmed, you can break it down into multiple small steps. The Department of Homeland Security has proclaimed September to be National Preparedness Month and has provided a schedule of weekly activities at ready.gov. Here are some tasks to consider performing during good(?) times to help make an overwhelming situation a little more manageable.

The first step is to plan. If you haven’t already, you can start planning for the next catastrophe while you are housebound in the current one. In general, you should have plans for evacuating the immediate area and a plan in case you need to shelter in place. Obviously, your specific response will vary with the particular situation. While hunkering down in the basement is advised during a tornado, it would not be good during a flood. If a hurricane is headed your way, you want to leave town as soon as possible, whereas staying in your house is preferable during an ice storm. If the volcano is erupting, it is too late to sacrifice a virgin to placate the fire gods; you can only hope the eagles get there in time to rescue you.

Your evacuation plan needs to include accommodations for your pet. You will want to bring them with you because you don’t know how long it will be before you are allowed back into your home. It may only be a few hours, but it could also be days or weeks before your location is accessible and deemed safe. Have your pet restrained (on a leash or in a carrier) before you leave the house. In the midst of chaos, your pet could get startled and take off running. Scouring the neighborhood to hunt them down will slow your getaway significantly.

Make a list of pet friendly hotels and/or boarding facilities along your proposed escape routes. Yes, you should have multiple routes to multiple destinations because some of them will probably not be accessible. Gather information ahead of time so you will know the whereabouts of pet-friendly hotels or boarding facilities along your escape routes. Your local emergency shelters may not allow pets.

You may be thinking, why do all this now? If/when it happens, I will just look it up on my phone. In case of widespread power outages, your phone may not work. In case of the Pulse, using your phone puts you at risk of being turned into a phone-crazy.

If you do not have adequate warning to avoid the situation, you may have to shelter in place. By now, this should be a very familiar concept. In a more extreme case, the power may be out and you may be trapped inside your house or the roads may be blocked by water (in any of its states), debris, wild animals, fire, mud, lava or other hazard. This necessitates a cache of life sustaining supplies such as food and water (preferably in its liquid state), medicine, paper products and currency (your suitcase full of non-sequential, unmarked bills) as well as sources of light, heat, communication and entertainment.

Animals large and small present their own unique challenges in troubling times. While I cannot speak to proper procedures for farms and zoos (hopefully they already have contingency plans), I would like to offer suggestions for keepers of house pets. To avoid the incessant repetition of the phrase “your pet”, I shall hereafter refer to him/her, regardless of species or gender, as “Geddy” (short for Armageddon, and its possessive form is a fantastic restaurant in Bar Harbor). I will also primarily use the singular form of they/them, as you need to take all of them into account, but on an individual basis. Be aware that the tips for pet owners can be applied to many species, but are aimed primarily at dogs and cats. If you have exotic pets that require special environmental conditions, evacuation could be rather difficult, as could caring for them during an extended power outage. And though your auntie may be willing to take in you and your kids and your dog and your cat, your crocodile may only be welcome in her home after it has been turned into shoes.

If you are reading this, you are probably a pet owner. (If you do not have pets, but are reading this anyway because you are a fan of my work, you have nothing else to do or you are a spy for some government or other, that’s ok too.) Thanks to the power of the human-animal bond, seeing to Geddy’s needs will be beneficial to both of you in the midst of misfortune. The presence of your pet causes increases in happy hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. This is desirable anytime, but is particularly beneficial in tumultuous times. Your Geddy provides not only companionship and comfort, but also increased coping skills and resiliency and decreased stress during a crisis. The positive effect of pet ownership has also been demonstrated after a disaster, with pet owners needing fewer post-disaster services.

It has been found that people with pets are more likely to disobey orders to evacuate an unsafe area. This became very apparent during the Hurricane Katrina debacle in 2005, as did the unpleasant aftermath when the majority of people and pets separated during the catastrophe were not reunited. One small bright spot in this depressing episode is the Pet Evacuation and Transport Standards (PETS) Act of 2006. This law, signed by none other than George Bush, requires states seeking assistance from FEMA to accommodate pets when evacuating people. Think of it as “No Pets Left Behind”.

If you are sheltering in place, it is mostly a matter of having enough supplies to preserve your pet’s lifestyle with minimal disruption. Lists of supplies to meet physical needs are readily available. The CDC even has separate ones for dogs and cats (https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/resources/disaster-prep-pet- emergency-checklist.pdf).

Maintain a supply of your pets preferred food at all times. You never know when the supply chain may be interrupted. Running out will be particularly irksome if Geddy is on a prescription food, has a sensitive stomach or is particularly finicky about their rations. You also want to avoid changing diets suddenly, as that may cause gastro-intestinal distress. If the food is canned, make sure a can opener is kept in close proximity. If it is dry kibble, make sure it is kept in a waterproof container.

You already know that clean drinking water is vital for life on earth. In this case, you also need a pet-friendly way of dispensing it, because while your guinea pig is adept at drinking out of a bottle, most dogs and cats are not.

Each and every pet needs a sturdy, yet portable shelter. This will most likely be some form of crate. Teaching Geddy to be comfortable in the crate, or even to seek it out during stressful times, can save you precious time and worry in the case of an actual emergency. Familiar items like toys or bedding in the crate can provide your pet a spot of comfort in a world of uncertainty.

You will need to provide your pet with some means of exercise. Even if circumstances such as smoke, ash, toxic fumes, nuclear fallout, or sharknados preclude going outside for a bit of fresh air, you may still want to let your pet walk around a bit. Depending on your location, this may still require a leash/harness. This does apply to animals other than the canine variety. With a little help from adventurecats.org, you can teach your cat to walk on a leash. Harnesses are available for other pets, including birds, lizards, rats, rabbits and even turtles. Snakes and fish, however, do present some unique challenges in this department.

No matter where you end up, your pet will need to perform bodily functions and you will need to clean up after them. Unbridled excrement will get you expelled from many a shelter, including (or especially) if you are staying with friends or relatives. Have a strategic reserve of sanitation products to meet Geddy’s individual needs. If you have cats, you already know that changing litter or litterboxes without feline consent can have unpleasant consequences; your best bet is to stick to the kind they consistently use. Disposable absorbent “training” pads may come in quite handy for lining the kennel of a variety of species.  You will also need a ready suppply of plastic bags for dosiposal  of solid waste (unless, of course, the emergency in question is the rebellion of trillions of sentient plastic bags against humankind). It is also a good idea to pack paper towels, enzymatic cleaner and rubber gloves in case of a biological incident.

Try to maintain a drug stash for any and all members (people and pets) of your household who are on any sort of medication on an ongoing basis. It is also helpful to keep a printed list of all meds (including dosage) in case someone else needs to administer them or if the computer is down at the pharmacy or vet clinic and you need refills. Diabetic pets present their own difficulties. Make sure you are well stocked in the needle department, try to keep a small cooler bag to transport insulin if needed, and do your best to maintain their food/exercise routine.

To help diffuse a little of the inevitable tension, include some calming pheromones (Feliway for cats, Adaptil for dogs) in your collection of pet necessities. Spray the kennel and/or car before you load your pets and embark on your journey and upon arrival at your temporary destination.

Keep copies of vital pet information in a waterproof container. This includes current vaccination records, the previously mentioned medication list, registration information, microchip number (and contact info for microchip company), current photo of you and your pet and contact information for you and a socially close but geographically distant friend or relative.

Make sure Geddy’s microchip information is current, and have a secondary contact in case your phone is not working. If your pet does not yet have a microchip, go back and read last month’s BLOG blog on the subject and then have one installed in your pet posthaste.

In addition to your pet’s physical comfort, you should take steps now to help them cope with the inevitable psychological turmoil that will ensue if your life is completely disrupted.

The first step is to assess Geddy’s comfort level in situations that may not be commonly encountered in your current life, but are likely to occur during a calamity. This includes things like unfamiliar places and animals, activities like transport and being handled by strangers and the possibility of being housed separately from you.

Different pets respond differently to stressful situations. Careful observation will help you discern what circumstances affect your pet and what signs they demonstrate when they are stressed. Common signs of stress include excessive panting, drooling, tail tucking, stiff body posture, cowering/crouched posture, freezing, shaking, excessive fatigue, resource guarding, decreased play initiation/engagement and, on occasion, aggression. Once you have discerned the triggers, you will know what situations you should strive to avoid altogether.

In the case of stressors that cannot be avoided, now is the time to help Geddy learn to adapt through training and counterconditioning. You will not be able to do so when the water’s five feet high and rising. Your ability to assist them in the moment of crisis may be limited, so you should you equip them beforehand with as many coping mechanisms as possible.

If you are spending a lot of time home with them, work on establishing or maintaining desirable behaviors. This includes teaching them to be comfortable being alone, and teaching them to come when called. You may need the help of a professional trainer. Do not be afraid (or ashamed) to ask for help. It is in no way a poor reflection on you – instead it shows an admirable dedication to your pet’swelfare.

Admittedly the preparation process can be rather overwhelming. However, if you can take a few small steps now, the return on investment will be significant in the event of an emergency. If you never need to use this information, that is even better. It is far better to have a plan and not need it than to need it and not have it.

This concludes the September 2020 edition of BLOG blog.

Until next time, Bored Surfers, remember to be excellent to each other.

Dr. Debbie Appleby