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California Fires Affect Pets

By: Rebecca O'Connor

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It isn't just people who need shelter and provisions in the event of a wildfire. As a tremendous number of individuals in Southern California were evacuated from their homes, managing pets became a critical component of their exodus. Arriving at shelters, many people discovered that pets were not allowed in and were forced to remain in the parking lot rather than leave their pets, making an already stressful situation even more difficult.

Animals cannot be brought into human shelters due to health regulations. Usually local Humane Society or animal control personnel arrive rapidly to assist with animals in need of shelter, but the scale of the evacuation was so great that in some places there was no way to accommodate the animals. Many evacuees hadn't really thought out what they would do with their pets if they were forced to leave their home. Fortunately, there were many others options for pet lovers.

Hotels Welcome Animal Evacuees

All over Southern California, hotels filled as people were forced out of their neighborhoods from more than a dozen fires. Guests included more than the human sort as many hotels happily found they were housing a menagerie of animals. Some hotels in San Diego lifted pet restrictions for evacuees so that no pets would be left behind. Some hotels like the Marriot which normally charges $75 extra for pets waived the fees that are normally charged to cover extra cleaning. Pets were welcome and numerous.

At the San Diego Marriot there were so many dogs that the hotel set up an make-shift doggie park in the pool area. Supplying guests with poop bags, the hotel encouraged guests to walk their dogs in the area. In a situation that was frightening, dog lovers were able to find some normalcy and camaraderie. It wasn't just dogs and cats that were welcome however, hotels say chinchillas, goats, pot bellied pigs, ferrets, parrots and rabbits arrived as well.

Many other local pet organizations jumped in to help. PETCO had many associates helping coordinate their response on behalf of animals in San Diego County. They shipped one semi on each of the last three days of the fires to bring in crates and other needed products to the evacuation centers from their distribution center in Mira Loma, CA. The entire community pulled together.

Preparing for Unexpected Evacuations

Pet lovers in San Diego, Lake Arrowhead, Malibu and other areas where the fires got too close for comfort are likely reconsidering their plans for evacuating. Being prepared to get your pets out fast can prevent additional stress in already terrifying time and also help animals deal with the situation. Pets stress out when disaster strikes, just like people, so a good plan makes all the difference.

Smoke can be very dangerous to small animals, so planning for evacuation and having shelter in mind is very important. Even if your house isn't in imminent danger, your animals may need to be evacuated if there is heavy smoke. Have a list of phone numbers for friends, family, pet-friendly hotels and local shelters that could take your pets in an emergency. Knowing where you can go will alleviate panic if disaster strikes.

If you think you might need to evacuate, put together an emergency kit for your pets. Gather vet records, at least three days of food and water, a first aid kit including any medication, leash, crates, paper towels, disinfectant and plastic bags for cleaning up messes. Make sure you pet is wearing an ID tag if it can safely wear one and check that the information is current.

Keep in mind that you may not be at home when your animals need evacuated or allowed in to get them. The local command center for your area will be able to tell you what organization is rescuing animals from your neighborhood. Give animal control permission to break a window if the situation is dire and get your animals out. Have a buddy system in place with a neighbor to check on each other's animals in case one of you is away.

How You Can Help

If you live in the Southern California area and can foster a displaced pet, go to http://www.petfinder.com/disaster and sign up to help. The Petfinder.com Foundation has set up a 24-hour call center to link evacuees with volunteers willing to provide a temporary home for a displaced pet. You will also find which animal shelters need your help and donations.

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