ORLANDO — As Tropical Storm Erika approaches Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and county and city leaders are urging the public to be prepared for the worst, and to anticipate that this storm will likely bring heavy rains and winds to the state, potentially knocking down tree limbs and causing flooding in some areas.
At the same time, another government agency, Orange County Animal Services, is urging residents to keep in mind the storm risks posed to a highly vulnerable part of the population: pets.
“It is vitally important for pet owners to have a written disaster plan that includes their pets,” said Dil Luther, division manager of OCAS. “Under no circumstances should pets be left behind.”
OCAS, which operates the largest pet shelter in Orange County, sent out a release recommending that pet owners begin making arrangements for a place to stay in the event they are forced to evacuate their home — and to remember to absolutely notleave those beloved pets behind.
“Do not wait until a disaster strikes to begin researching,” Luther said. “Start now, and have several evacuation options for your family and pets.”
The shelter staff issued some tips on Friday for pet owners, which include getting ready for a potentially strong storm.
“First, schedule an appointment to talk to your pet’s veterinarian about planning for a disaster,” the shelter noted in the release. “Ensure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date and secure a copy of the medical records.”
Next, area residents should assemble a “Pet Disaster Kit” that’s stored in an accessible place, and that includes items like a gallon zipper storage bag to hold the contents, sandwich-size bags for pet treats and a small toy, pet health records, a current picture of your pet (as well as a photo of you and your pet) with your name, address and phone numbers on it, a collar and leash for dogs, and an adjustable collar for cats.
The Pet Disaster Kit should also include an extra identification tag, and any special information on your pet.
“Since you may not be home when an evacuation order is announced, find a trusted friend who is willing to take your pets and meet you at a prearranged location,” OCAS noted. “This person should be comfortable with your pets, know where the pets should be, know where your disaster supplies and kits are located, and have a key to your home. Share your plan with friends and relatives.”
Anyone who is forced to evacuate their home should absolutely not leave their pet behind, the shelter warns.
“As the disaster approaches, bring all pets in the house so that you won’t have to search for them if you have to leave in a hurry,” the shelter notes. “Pets are not permitted in Red Cross shelters, except for working dogs for people with special needs. Plan to go to a friend or relative’s home, or a hotel/motel where your pet is welcome.”
Necessary disaster supplies for pets include a carrier or crate for each pet; a two-week supply of pet food, water, medications and a manual can opener; food and water bowls; and cat litter and a litter box.
After the storm, “Your pet will probably be disoriented and frightened. Be patient and understanding; the situation is just as traumatic to them as to you,” the shelter noted. “Consult your veterinarian if any behavior or physical problems arise.”
Orange County Animal Services is Central Florida’s largest pet rescue and adoption center, and it received nearly 20,000 animals at its shelter in 2014.
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