Joan Merriam: Preparing for an emergency | TheUnion.com

Joan Merriam: Preparing for an emergency

I planned for this month's column to be focused on fall water activities for you and your dog in our local area.

However, in light of these terrible fires in our area as well as the devastating ones in Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties, I've decided to talk instead about the whole subject of emergency preparedness for you and your animal family.

Because I live in a deeply forested area, I may be more aware of just how vulnerable we are to the kinds of fires that have exploded on our state.

But the destruction in Santa Rosa should remind us all that no one is immune to the dangers posed by wildfires, even in the middle of a heavily populated neighborhood.

At the same time, news coverage about all the animals that people have been forced to leave behind — or the ones that likely perished when the fires swept through their communities — made me think again about how helpless our companion animals are in the face of these sorts of emergencies, and how much they depend on us for their safety.

The Humane Society has a very simple dictate for responding to a disaster: If it's not safe for you, it's not safe for your pets. Let this advice guide every action you take when it comes to your animals in an emergency.

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The primary step is preparedness … so let's start there.

Being prepared

First, go to MyNevadaCounty.com and sign up for CodeRed alerts. This allows the county to call or text you in the event of an emergency in your area.

If you have a landline through AT&T, that phone number is already in the database; but signing up with CodeRed allows you to add your cell phone information.

The county's Office of Emergency Services also has a very helpful Fire Season and Fire Evacuation Guide on their website.

One of the most important things you can do is make sure your pets have some sort of identification, whether it's an ID tag or a collar with their name and all your phone numbers.

Consider getting them microchipped so they can be identified and reunited with you if you lose track of one another. Microchipping is inexpensive and painless, and could save their lives if your animals end up in a shelter.

It's a good idea to display a "Save My Pet" sticker at every exterior door so first responders know what animals you have, just in case they're trapped inside. These stickers, which you can laminate to make them more weatherproof, are available at most pet stores.

Then there's your animal "go bag," which you should have ready to grab at a moment's notice — because sometimes, a moment is all you have. Here's what to include:

Enough food and water for five days, and lightweight bowls.

Medications, a medication list, first-aid kit, and contact information for your veterinarian.

Vaccination certificates — especially rabies — or proof of vaccination. (See below.)

Recent photos of your pets, just in case you become separated.

A few toys, blankets, or anything else that would help your animal feel safe in an unfamiliar environment.

Now, here's a suggestion about vaccination records: make a copy of them, especially rabies certificates, and keep them in your car's glovebox. That way, you'll have them with you whether you're on the road on vacation or due to an emergency.

Practice makes perfect

Be sure you have an evacuation plan, and practice it. Often when disaster strikes unexpectedly, panic sets in and we can't think of where to go; if you've already rehearsed your escape route, you'll have a much better chance of getting out safely.

Being well-prepared is critical — but you also need to be able to respond rationally when there is an emergency. If something like a wildfire hits your area, evacuate if you're ordered to do so.

Don't try to be a "house hero" and stay behind to save it: a home can be rebuilt, your possessions can be replaced, but your life and the lives of your animals can't. The frightening speed with which these latest fires overtook peoples' homes should be a lesson for us all.

Above all, DON'T go back home after you've left! It's far too easy to find yourself trapped with no way out, or separated from your family or animals (read Liz Kellar's column from a couple of weeks ago for a firsthand example of what not to do.)

Once you've evacuated, stay informed about the status of the emergency, especially if you're not at an official shelter.

Keep your cell phone or laptop charged, and check for internet updates through the county's Office of Emergency Services, YubaNet, CalFire, and trusted media sources.

It's also not a bad idea to post something on Facebook advising friends and relatives that you're safe.

Finally, remember this: whether you and your animals survive an emergency depends on your disaster plan and most importantly, on YOU.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you're looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.