How to Help Your Pet — and Others — During Natural Disasters

There are ways you can help, no matter where you live.

The raging fires in Southern California are absolutely terrifying — the list of fire-affected areas grows and grows and, with that, so do the animals and families with animals in need of help. It's pretty likely that you or a loved one live in an area that could get hit by some sort of natural disaster from floods and hurricanes to wildfires and earthquakes, so it's best to always be prepared for the worst — and have an idea of how to help others when needs arise.

1.  If you have a pet, have a plan for before, during and after a disaster.

Jackson Galaxy, animal behaviorist and host of My Cat From Hell and Cat Vs. Dog, recommends you always microchip your pet and have an emergency go-bag with a week’s supply of food, bottled water, harnesses and leashes (for both dogs and cats), one month of medication, and a clear picture of your pet in case you get separated from one another. During times of stress such as this, he also reminds pet owners to try to remain as outwardly calm as possible — we know it’s hard to do! — since pets pick up on the stress around them. When leaving, keep animals secure as even the best-trained pet can get spooked and dash off and, when you get back (or resettled in a temporary location), re-establish your 3 R's — routine, ritual and rhythms — as soon as possible to help alleviate additional stress.  

2.  Look at organizations' need lists and donate items for pets — and people.

Most shelters have lists of evergreen needs on their website or social media pages but those shift if there's a disaster, depending on the situation and animals that are entering. For example, the East Valley (Van Nuys) and West Valley (Chatsworth) shelters are in urgent need of supplies including cases of bottled water, face masks and food/water bowls or trays. The Humane Society of Ventura County (which takes in larger animals like horses) is asking for drop-off items including Alfalfa hay, Timothy hay, cat food, rabbit food, flashlights, headlamps, lanterns, water troughs and bottled water. With online retailers offering many of these items, you can donate from your computer across the country, too.  

3.  If you live near an affected area, consider being a foster parent or volunteer.

LA Animal Services posted an “urgent need for foster volunteers for shelter dogs and cats to make room for lost/frightened pets who have escaped fires." Many other shelters that were crowded to begin with are absolutely overrun with pets after a disaster — if you're able to temporarily take in an animal or offer a few hours of your time to help with their rescue efforts, that gesture goes a long way.

4.  If time and distance are getting in the way, money is always welcome.

Sure, this one seems obvious but it can be overwhelming to know where to donate and how those donations will be used, especially if you're not local. Typically, the ASPCA, Humane Society and Red Cross are considered reputable organizations — you can donate from afar and at any time at all.

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