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Prepare a Pet Emergency Plan

4 Steps You Can Take to Keep Your Pets Safe

As we head into peak Atlantic hurricane season, annual reminders about preparedness have to include pets. Over the last eighteen months, many of us have had our emergency plans – or lack of plans – tested. Whether the next challenge we face is a natural disaster, a medical emergency, or something more mundane, take time to plan now so you can protect your animal companions. 


The first year-round readiness step is to be sure your pet can be identified. Pair microchips with physical identification for the best chance of a successful reunion if you and your pet are separated. A microchip is permanently implanted under the pet’s skin, but it can only be read with a special scanner. The everyday person who might find your pet does not have a scanner, making a collar and tag important even for pets with a chip. 

Are your pets’ tags attached to their collars? Are the phone numbers legible and accurate? Include both your cell phone number and an emergency backup contact in case you are not reachable. 

What database is your pet’s chip registered with? Do a checkup with the microchip company. Call them today to make sure they have all your current information on file, as well as your designated backup contact.


Should your pets need to be boarded on short notice, proof of their vaccinations will be required. Are you ready to produce them? Your veterinarian may not be able to respond to a records request in an emergency, and many veterinary offices are at capacity and short-staffed now. Gather copies of essential records in advance and keep them in a waterproof container. Scan backup copies with your phone. 

There are apps available specifically for pet records, but if you are low on storage space or patience for learning a new app, there is a simpler solution. Make an album on your phone under each of your pets’ names. Scan important records there for easy access. While you are likely to have plenty of sentimental photos you can add to this album, take extra care to capture clear photos of unique markings on your pet, as well as profile and head-on shots. If you need to post an alert online, these images will be at your fingertips. Photos of you and your pet together can help verify ownership if you are separated.


Like the protagonist of every spy drama, you need a go bag. Instead of burner phones, yours will have kibble and carriers. What would you need to meet your pets’ needs for at least three days? Have an extra supply of food, water, and medications stored in waterproof, airtight containers. Be prepared for sanitation needs with litter and litterbox for cats, plastic trash bags, paper towels, and household bleach. 

Have a crate or carrier for each pet. Not only does this give you a safe way to transport and confine pets, it can provide a familiar and trusted space while staying in temporary housing. Add comfort items like bedding and toys to further reduce stress. 

Along with gathering supplies, set up a contingency plan. Who could care for your pets if you were away during a crisis or sudden hospitalization? This could be a friend, family member, or neighbor who is comfortable handling your pets and with whom your pets are familiar. Show your designated caretaker where your emergency supplies are kept, where your pets are likely to be, and how to access your home.

Evacuate or Shelter in Place Together 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells us to expect an above-average storm season in 2021, and while Metro Richmond does not fall into the Commonwealth’s four-tiered evacuation zones along the Virginia coastline, our area can still face the effects of flooding and high winds. Though the likelihood of evacuation is low for our region, remember that if your home becomes unsafe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets to stay there either. 

Where would you and your pets go? Among the misinformation spread online is the claim that hotels must accept pets during a disaster declaration. While hotels must accommodate service animals, this does not apply to pets. Though more chains now welcome pets, call ahead rather than assume. Develop your own plan in conjunction with friends or family outside the immediate area who would be willing to provide shelter to you and your pets and vice versa. 

When sheltering in place, bring pets indoors well in advance of dangerous weather. Keep dogs on leashes and cats confined to an interior room where you have eliminated hiding places. Have their carriers accessible along with your emergency supplies. 

After the storm has passed, assess any damage before giving pets the freedom to explore. There could be debris, downed power lines, damaged fences, and other dangers.

If you prepare now, you and your family – including your beloved pets – will be ready for any emergency.

Tabitha Frizzell Treloar is the director of communications for the Richmond SPCA. In her sixteen years with the local nonprofit, she has adopted six pets and fostered countless others. Currently she and her husband share their Northside home with two dogs and two cats, all Richmond SPCA alumni.
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