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There is a storm coming. An evacuation order has been issued for your area, and you have your bags packed and ready to head to the hurricane shelter. As you are almost out the door, you realize that you've forgotten a family member: your dog.

        What to do? Public storm shelters do not allow pets on leashes, in carriers, or otherwise unless the pet is a designated service animal. Do you leave your dog at home and hope everything is okay? Do you stay and put yourself at risk to protect your pet? Nothing seems like a great option as the storm is bearing down and you don't have time to think.

        For this reason, all pet owners need a storm preparedness plan for cats, dogs, and other beloved family pets. This way, you can put your plan into action immediately when you know a storm is coming rather than spend valuable time trying to figure out what to do.

        Storm Preparedness for Pets
        There are three possible scenarios for pet owners who want to build an emergency storm preparedness plan:

        Taking the pet with you during an evacuation
        Staying at home with your pet
        Leaving your pet at home alone
        Regardless of what you plan to do with your pet, you will need a few basic pet supplies to help prepare your pet for a storm, including:

        Pet identification tag, bracelet, or microchip
        Portable pet carrier large enough to allow the pet room to stand up and turn around
        Pet food, treats, and dog chews
        Pet leash, harness and pet collar
        Pet toys, pet blanket or pet bed
        Any medication your pet may be on
        Any other item you feel would make your pet more comfortable and calm during the storm
        Option 1: Pet Care in an Evacuation
        Evacuations are the most difficult option for pet owners. Public storm shelters do not allow pets, so pet owners must either find a "safe house" for their pet or stay in a pet-friendly hotel.

        If you will be staying in a hotel, confirm beforehand that they allow pets. If you will be staying with friends or relatives, make sure they are okay with having your pet in their home.

        If you must evacuate but cannot find a suitable place to keep your pet and have nowhere else to stay, call your county's Animal Control Department and ask about a foster care agreement.

        Option 2: Staying Home With a Pet in a Storm
        Staying at home just because you have nowhere for your pet to go is not a good idea. If your area has been evacuated or is under an extreme weather advisory, put your own safety first. Never attempt to weather a storm if local officials have ordered an evacuation or a take-cover notification.

        Option 3: Leave the Pet at Home
        If you evacuate and leave your pet and your home is partially destroyed, you should prepare your family for the possible loss of your pet(s). This is the worst option, and usually this option is not necessary. With proper planning, you can avoid having to make this tough decision.

        If you are forced to leave your pet alone, confine it to a pet carrier. This way, if your home is damaged in the storm, your pet does not get lost or run away in fear. Leave the pet in an interior closet or bathroom with an ample supply of drinking water and food. Include other familiar items such as chew toys and blankets.

        Prepare Your Pet Early
        Here are a few more steps you can take to ensure you have done all you can to prepare your pet for a disaster or severe weather event:

        Spay or neuter your pet
        Vaccinate your pet by mid-May each year
        Identify your pet by current license and rabies tags and/or micro chipping, tattooing, or freeze branding
        Take clear photos of your pet(s) and store the photos with your other important documents in a waterproof container
        Reserve space at an animal clinic or boarding kennel. Call early because space will be limited. Ask about any required vaccinations and additional fees if you cannot return immediately to pick up your pet.
        Exotic pets such as snakes and birds require special containers. If the pet escapes during the storm, the odds of getting them back are poor.
        Special care should be taken for large animals such as horses and livestock. Read more about storm preparedness for a farm.
        After the Storm
        After the storm is over and you are back home surveying the damage, do not let your pet run loose. Familiar smells and landmarks may have been altered by the high winds and heavy rain or flooding. Since animals rely heavily on their sense of smell and landmarks, your pet may become easily disoriented and get lost. If your pet is lost, or if you find someone else's pet, contact the veterinary clinics, boarding facilities, Humane Society, and Animal Control offices in your area to report the find.

        Your pet is part of your family, so why not include your dog or cat in your storm preparedness plan? During Hurricane Andrew, there were reports of people who refused to evacuate because they didn't want to leave their pets behind. With proper planning, you can establish an emergency preparedness plan for not only yourself and your family, but your pets as well.

        *This information is general and is not intended to replace or override any of the advice, warnings, or information given by local officials, FEMA, NOAA, or any other official regulatory organization or government branch regarding storm safety in the form of thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, hail storms, floods, or any other natural disaster or man-made disaster. Always follow take-cover recommendations, evacuation orders, and any other advice given by local officials for your area, regardless of whether it is similar to or different from this information.