Emergency Preparedness Week starts this Sunday and the Animal Lifeline Emergency Response Team (ALERT) is reminding pet owners to have an evacuation plan in place.
Deborah McBride, director of operations for ALERT, told the Capital News that her volunteers have been busy training for wildfire season, conducting exercises across the Okanagan.
They have rescued plush animals from rooms at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, scooped plastic ducks out of the same hotel’s fountain, rounded up fake horses from the paddocks at the Penticton Equestrian Centre, and more.
Still, McBride said it “scares the heck” out of her and her volunteers when people think ALERT is their emergency preparedness plan.
People, rather, need to have their own plans, McBride said, and ALERT is available to support them.
“We can support people’s plans. We don’t want to become their plan because we only have so many volunteers and we only have one stock trailer. That’s not going to go very far if the whole area is going to be evacuated,” she said. “We’re happy to sit down with them and get them started.”
Though overwhelming, McBride said that once you get started with a plan, the details will fall into place.
She said people should have, at a minimum, 72-hour grab-and-go emergency kits ready for themselves as well as their pets. Kits should include the essentials, such as fresh water and medications.
She also advised that kits for pets include a USB stick with photos of the animals, digital documentation of their medications from the veterinarian as well as the vets’ after-hours emergency number.
For a list of what to pack and other resources, visit the PreparedBC website.
People who own cats and dogs should ensure their animals are crate-trained, McBride continued, in case they have to evacuate to a hotel.
For larger animals, she said her organization has noticed hobby farms that purchase animals, but not a trailer, which would be needed in the event of an evacuation.
“It’s something that they have to take on the responsibility for if they’ve taken on the responsibility of having animals,” she said.
She also advised creating buddy systems with neighbours and mutual aid agreements with people in different areas, and carrying the names and numbers of those people with you when you leave your property.
“If there’s a big sale on at Costco and everybody in the neighbourhood is going down to get some fantastic article, buddy with your neighbours so that one person can go and the other can look after your property if something happens,” she said. “Then you’re not all going to be out of the neighbourhood when the roadblocks come up.”
If an alert comes, McBride had additional advice: keep your cats and dogs inside and your larger animals close to home.
“When you get that knock on the door and you’re told to get out of there in 10 minutes, you don’t have time to look for the cat,” she said. “As soon as you go on evacuation alert, you have to keep your animals close.”
Animals that would be difficult to evacuate, such as a mare about to give birth, should be evacuated at alert time, she added.
“Don’t wait for that order to come down because you will not have time.”
When it comes to house fires, McBride said, there is even less time to evacuate.
“Grab-and-go bags are used for when you have a little bit of warning and with a house fire you don’t have any warning, you just have to get out yourself,” she said.
“We can help people prepare for what to do in the event of an interface fire or flooding … but for a house fire that’s a whole other avenue. That’s just a prime example of tragedy.”
Interface fires are fires that have the potential to involve buildings and forest fuel or vegetation simultaneously.
McBride said she knows someone in the Okanagan who has built a ‘catio’ — an outdoor enclosure for cats — and is training their cat to go out to the catio if the smoke alarm goes off, “but in my experience … it may not play out that way,” she said, adding that many animals instead hide under the bed.
She said she has heard of pet owners breaking the windows after they exit their burning house, but smaller animals may not be able to jump that high, “and then you’re just adding oxygen to the fire and that can make it worse.”
Many people are not home when house fires happen, McBride added.
“We had a fire recently in Peachland where the woman had just walked her three little dogs. She was a great animal mom. She put them back in the house and off she went to the gym,” she said. “When she got back her house had burned down. Somebody was able to break down the door and one of the dogs got out, but the other two dogs and cats perished.
“There isn’t an answer. We can’t take our animals with us everywhere we go.”
When it comes to house fires, McBride emphasized prevention.
“Just be FireSmart,” she said.
Wilson Landing Fire chief Don Bennison also advised keeping your property as FireSmart as possible.
“Make sure there are no bare wires, overloaded wires,” Bennison said.
In the event of the death of a pet, McBride advised grief counselling, for which ALERT provides referrals.