Train Your Pets for an Emergency
The time to train your pets for an emergency evacuation starts now. You do not want to attempt to capture terrified animals in the middle of a fire, flood, tornado, hurricane, or earthquake, as it’s likely that one or more of you will end up in the emergency room.
This is going to focus mostly on cats and dogs, as those are the pets I have the most experience with and are the most common. I have traveled extensively with both cats and dogs and so this kind of training is perfectly feasible.
Here are the four goals of training both dogs and cats:
- You should know their hiding places.
- They come when called.
- They get in the carrier without fuss and relatively quickly, preferably without your attention.
- The can walk on a leash.
For cats, there are two other skills they need to learn if they have claws:
- climbing trees
If you do not teach your animals to do these tasks, you may have to face abandoning them in order to save your life or a family member’s life—when time is of the essence you do not have the luxury of letting animals misbehave or hide.
Training Your Pet to Come When Called
Coming when called is easy for most of us to train our animals to do.
- The first few times, reward them with food, affection, or play.
- After that, it is important not to reward them every time but rather intermittently.
- So when you begin intermittent training, acknowledge that they have obeyed by praising them, but don’t offer a reward.
- Then offer a reward the next time, and randomly continue either praise or both praise and offering a reward.
Note: the sound of an electric can opener in the kitchen, or opening the refrigerator, will have an effect when almost nothing else will if it’s urgent
Cats and dogs should both be trained to walk on a leash (more about why later). That also means that they walk with/behind you rather than pulling every which way, lying down and refusing to move and having to be dragged, or any one of the numerous other resistance methods our pets love to use.
Cats especially need a harness and a leash that can be released quickly if necessary. The key to leash training is slow and steady. Accustom your pet to collar or harness a little at a time, and make it play. Reward and praise them at the end of the session, which should initially last only a few seconds, up to about two minutes when you finally get harness or collar and leash on. For example, the first time you introduce a cat to a harness, it should just be in the room. Bring it a little closer each time, until the harness touches the cat briefly. Keep the harness next to them for longer and longer periods, until you can lay the harness on your cat’s body without sending it into a panic, and keep working from there until your cat will accept wearing the harness.
With cats, the key to their acceptance of the leash is to allow them to explore places they couldn’t ordinarily go. Taking them to the houses of people they know can be real fun for them, especially if treats and play are available, or a walk in the neighborhood might be more their style. You want to be able to control your pet safely because one day you and she or he may need it.
Get Them Comfortable With Traveling
For most animals, the only time they see a carrier is when they go to the vet. No wonder they don’t want to get inside! Instead, make a habit of taking them with you in the carrier to various places when you can. Make the carrier comfortable with towels or pillows, food, water, treats, and toys. If your pet is fond of a particular family member, have that member sleep with the towel or pillow on occasion. Don't forget that the carrier has to be roomy enough to hold your animal comfortably.
If cats are resistant to carriers, don’t give up. Remember that most every cat loves cardboard boxes and paper bags, and if necessary, put one of those in the carrier to let them get used to going in and out. Once they go in, shut the door for a few seconds and praise and reward them, then open the door. Make it like a game and they will want to play it. (For really stubborn cats, sometimes a little reverse psychology is in order—let them investigate but don’t let them go in at first until they feel they are getting away with something.) The ideal is to put the open carrier on the floor, and within a few minutes your cat or dog will go inside while you are otherwise occupied. It is possible, because I’ve done it, many times.
There are several kinds of carriers available: hard-sided carriers and soft-sided carriers. Soft-sided carriers should have both handles and shoulder straps. Hard-sided carriers come with handles; a shoulder strap can be fastened on with a little improvisation. Another addition for a flood that may come in handy is to have pool noodles that can be cut to size and duct-taped to the bottom of the carrier so that the carrier will float if you are carrying it and knocked off your feet by the current or a wave, or trip on something unseen underwater.
Always have a pouch of food ready to throw in the carrier or fasten on top, and have water bottles handy for filling, even if you have to escape first and fill them from your own water bottle later. Fasten a Ziploc bag containing your pet’s identification and medical records to the inside roof of the carrier.
The importance of a carrier can’t be overstated. If you are in a vehicle and get hit or stop suddenly, your loose pet becomes a projectile. A carrier can be held in place with a seatbelt or car seat anchors to ensure that your 60-pound dog is not aimed directly at your head at 35 mph.
Comfort in the Car
Cats need a safe place to eliminate, so in your car trunk, keep a couple of aluminum roasting pans, a few “helpings” of kitty litter, and some plastic bags. When your cat needs to go, take out the aluminum pan, line it with a plastic bag, and pour in ¼ inch of kitty litter. Open the door, fasten the leash to your cat’s harness, and “walk” your cat over to the litter pan. When they have finished, turn the bag inside out to collect the litter, tie it up, and find a safe place to dispose of it. Walk your cat back to the carrier, and unhook the leash once kitty is inside and calm.
I don’t have any experience with ferrets as they are illegal to have as pets in my state, so I’ll have to wait for someone else to chime in. However, given their propensity for climbing into boxes, pillowcases, and tube socks, you should be able to find something to entice them and then put whatever they are in in a carrier.
For snakes, lizards and other reptiles, using ice to chill the air around them so that they become torpid will allow you to handle them.
Birds should be trained to be able to be moved to cages small enough for one person to handle. Again, pool noodles should be duct-taped to the bottom of the cage so it will float. Don’t clip your bird’s wings—being able to fly in an emergency should be a last resort but again it’s better than someone’s death.
Get Them Out!
What if your pet hides and won’t come out? If it’s a matter of life and death right now, destroy the cabinet or whatever they are under or in (this is why you have to know their hiding places).
Be prepared to make a choice to sacrifice that piece of furniture if it means saving your pet. If the hiding place your pet chose is movable, pick it up and shake the animal out into their carrier or shove the container into their carrier, or at least get it into the car and then get them to come into the carrier. This may seem unkind but when lives are at stake you have no other choice if you are going to save your pet—it’s no time to be nice! I am sure your beloved pet will forgive you later.
If all else fails in a flood, your cat can climb a tree and can hunt when the water recedes. It’s not ideal, I admit, but it’s better than you or your children dying trying to save the cat if it comes to that choice.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 classicalgeek