Pet Preparedness for Disasters by Jo Becker

I’m going to take a little detour from cat behavior to provide you with some very important information.  June is National Pet Preparedness Month, so today’s article is presented to you by my friend Jo Becker, an Animal Preparedness Professional and public speaker with all the know-how you need to make sure that you can take care of your pet should you find yourself in unforeseen circumstances.  You can find out more about Jo here.

National Pet Preparedness Month

From earthquakes and tsunamis to tornadoes and hurricanes, from house fires (the most common disaster, by the way, with one reported every 86 seconds in 2014 per the National Fire Protection Association) to medical crises, emergencies befall someone every day.

Whether the incident is individualized (your house is on fire, or your cat is seizing), localized (a wildfire in your area), or regional (the great Cascadia Subduction Zone begins to shake and rumble the west coast right under your feet), if you’re impacted it’s an emergency for you.

The good news is there are steps you can take – regardless of what calamity might occur – to prepare your household.  And not only should you prepare yourself and other human family members, but the non-human critters you share your life with as well.

Each June is recognized as National Pet Preparedness Month – a reminder to all of us to think forward and plan ahead for what might happen.  What could we do to help ourselves in a given situation?  What supplies or resources can we gather now that could make life safer and more comfortable if disaster does strike?

There are endless recommended animal emergency supply lists available.  Here are just a few you may wish to peruse:

The initial concept is simple and follows the base principals of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – in other words, start with the basics:

  • Food:  Whatever kind your pet is used to – brand, flavor, style (wet or dry), prescription or not, etc.  Of course, don’t forget a means to open, serve, and store the food.
  • Water:  At least enough for drinking, cleaning, and bathing – realize some disasters may involve toxins or debris that needs to be washed away from you, your clothes, and your pet’s skin or coat.
  • A way to deal with pee and poo: ‘cuz let’s face it, what goes in, must come out.
  • Any medication your pet requires.  Can you get and afford to store an extra supply? If not, an extra prescription ready to fill once you’ve evacuated the danger area could be helpful.
  • ‘Feel goods’ such as toys, comfy towels or blankets for pets to lie on, burrow in, or that could be draped over a cage or crate to provide privacy and minimize disturbing stimuli.  A piece of clothing or something that smells like you may bring your animal comfort in a strange environment, whether you’re camping in the yard after an incident compromises your home, or you and your pet temporarily take up residence at co-located shelters.1
  • The means to contain and transport your animal(s) is also very important, as is having some idea of where you might go in lieu of emergency shelters – say, with friends or family one county over; a campground or hotel that is known to take animals that’s likely to be outside the affected area; boarding facilities that are likely to still operational; etc.

One could keep going but thinking about the essentials – food, water, shelter – is a good, solid place to start.

So, how much of each do you attempt to gather and store?  That is a very personal decision and there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers.  Your answer must be consistent with your values, your budget, your storage capacity, etc. as well as what kind and how many animals you have with consideration for their conditions.  For example, my diabetic kitty might very well have been able to out-drink your golden retriever!  “How much” is always an individualized answer.

Official advice calls for at least 72-hours worth of essential supplies; most often I hear emergency professionals amend this to recommend at least 172-hours.  Of course, a few “preppers” have had fully stocked bunkers since Y2K.  Somewhere in there, you must determine for yourself what is best for your current situation.

If all of this seems scary and overwhelming, let me offer a ‘golden nugget’ that I find infinitely hopeful and reassuring.  Even if you had no money for supplies (or you buy and store them but the roof caves in on them), just thinking about possible ‘what ifs’ and how you’d handle them can significantly increase the odds that you and your family members (human and nonhuman) not only survive but go on to thrive following an incident.

Amanda Ripley’s book, The Unthinkable, Who Survives When Disaster Strikes And Why, is a gem I recommend everyone check out.  Get a physical or audio copy online or at a brick-and-mortar store or look for it at your local library!  If you do nothing more this June, watch this interview with the author, and buy or borrow a copy of the book.

Then, of course, by the time you’re done with the book, take at least one more step – say, gathering up a supply of food and water.

And when you’ve done that, take just one more step…  and then just one more…

One last overarching recommendation:  Get to know the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in your area and avail yourself of the free FEMA training and / or informational meetings they offer.  Find your CERT program here.

Ms. Ripley’s book and your local CERT program can further inform, inspire, and empower you with more details and tools than I could possibly ever pack into this small space.  Take these few tidbits as a starting point and go forth – Don’t Be Scared, GET PREPARED!

If you’re in the Portland metro area and want more specific information and advice, join me at my next Emergency Prep and Animal Behavior class (details can be found here).  If you’re interested in a session for your own group or organization, contact me at for a contracted class quote.

1Co-location is the ideal situation in which emergency people shelters are established in close proximity to emergency animal shelters.  This is ideal, but not always possible.  What you should not count on is being able to shelter with your animal in an emergency people shelter unless the animal qualifies as an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “service animal” (which is very specific and narrowly defined under the ADA).


Jo BeckerJo Becker’s introduction to emergency preparedness, disaster response, and incident management came in 2005 when she graduated from a local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program.  Since then Jo has dedicated herself to an aggressive self-education campaign during her free time.  Coursework has included over 150 courses including intensive Incident Command System (ICS) training and several animal-specific classes, as well as animal law and search and rescue conferences.  She has participated in and helped plan and put on full-scale disaster exercises, both people-and animal-focused. In 2014, she resuscitated the Oregon City CERT program at the request and in collaboration with the Clackamas Fire District; today the program is known as Willamette Falls CERT.  Jo’s Animals-In-Disaster and animal behavior / communication / body language presentations offer a unique perspective.  She takes an entertaining, personable approach to a “doom and gloom” subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated “pet mom” and “surrogate livestock handler” when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.  Learn more about Jo and her work at her website, HERE.

Disaster Preparedness for Pets

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Dr. Marci is a certified feline behavior and training consultant, with specialized and advanced certificates in Feline Training and Behavior. She started Feline Behavior Solutions to keep cats in homes and out of shelters as the result of treatable behavior issues. She believes that the number of cats in shelters can be greatly reduced if guardians better understand cat behavior, and learn how to work with their cats to encourage desired behaviors instead of unwanted ones. Dr. Marci’s family includes her four feline companions and her very patient, understanding, and supportive husband.