For Owners of Pets or Service Animals
This brochure is designed to help people with pets or service animals plan for emergencies.
When disaster strikes, some owners evacuate without their animal companions, unintentionally causing the death of that beloved pet. Other pets survive abandonment but are never reunited with owners frantically searching for them. Owners learn too late that they cannot bring pets or service animals into a crowded rescue helicopter or boat. Saddest of all are the owners who refuse to leave their animals behind and stay with them rather than evacuate, choosing to risk their own lives. For all of these reasons, you should include your pet in your family’s emergency plan.
- Prepare Yourself: Disaster Readiness Tips for Owners of Pets or Service Animals (PDF Format)
- A text version of this document can be found below
Service Animals Are Not Pets
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.” They are not pets. Their jobs include: guiding people who are blind; alerting people who are deaf or hearing impaired to doorbells, fire alarms or a baby’s cry; pulling wheelchairs for people with mobility impairments; protecting a person who has seizures; and performing a therapeutic function for persons with mental illness or autism. The overwhelming majority of service animals are dogs, but a few horses have been trained to guide people who are blind, and a small number of monkeys assist people with quadriplegia.
Although service animals should wear identifiable collars, the ADA requires neither identification, licenses, nor training. Unlike pets, service animals and their owners may enter a wide range of public accommodations, such as stores, restaurants, museums, and transportation systems. A service animal can be excluded from such places only if its behavior is a direct threat to the life or safety of people, or if it becomes a nuisance, e.g., through incessant barking. The animal’s owner is responsible for its behavior and for supplying any food, water, or medication it may need, even during a disaster. In times of disaster, a service animal is permitted in a shelter, clinic, or any other facility related to the emergency, such as a Federal Recovery Center.
Home fires remain the most common and most deadly emergency in America. Each year, people die when they return to a burning house to rescue pets. Don’t do this: let firefighters make the rescue — it’s part of their job.
Consider the following:
- Purchase stickers for doors and windows indicating number, type, and probable location of animals. Change stickers as the number of pets in your household changes.
- If possible, confine animals to a particular room each time you leave home, no matter how briefly. You will know where they are and may be able to direct firefighters if a fire starts in your absence.
- If you can’t keep them in one place, remember where they usually go to sleep or hide. That’s where they are likely to be in case of fire, unless prevented by smoke or heat.
- Time permitting, remove animals from a burning house on a leash or in a carrier. Make sure your animals wear nonbreakable collars with current license and vaccination tags.
- Place muzzles, handling gloves, catch nets, and animal restraints where firefighters can easily find them.
- Keep animal health and ownership records (including a photo of you with your animal) in your “go-kit”, so you can quickly grab them upon exiting. Put a copy of the records in a safe location away from your home.
- If possible, keep a copy of the pet records with a friend because you may not have time to get it in a fire.
Tip: Include pets or service animals in your emergency plan now. Don’t wait until real disaster narrows or eliminates choices.
During large emergencies shelters are made available to the public. These shelters, usually operated by groups like the local American Red Cross chapter, can save your life, but are a last resort for those who have no other alternative. These shelters are open to service animals, but, unless indicated, they are closed to pets.
Pet-friendly shelters generally are of two types: a facility especially designated for animals at some distance from the shelter for people; or a single building for people and pets, animals not being allowed in public areas. However, “Pet-friendly” shelters are very rare. To find out if any are available in your community, contact your local emergency management agency. If none are planned, you might suggest the idea and offer your services as a volunteer to find a solution.
Ready Kit and Go Bag
A Ready Kit is a supply of items that you will need if you should have to shelter in place or rely on your own resources for a few days. A Go Bag has fewer items, but they are the essential ones to take with you if you must evacuate quickly. See NOD’s booklet Planning for Hazards: A Guide for People with Functional Needs for a list of suggested supplies.
Consider including the following items in a kit for your pet or service animal:
- Two-week supply of water in plastic gallon jugs
- Cage/carrier (for each animal, labeled with contact information)
- Veterinary records (especially rabies tag and record and proof of ownership)
- Favorite toys, treats, blankets
- First aid kit and manual (call your vet)
- Leash, collar, harness (for each animal)
- Litter, litter pan, litter scoop
- Manual Can opener and spoons
- Muzzles (dog or cat)
- Newspaper (for bedding or litter)
- Nonspill food and water dishes
- Paper towels and plastic baggies
- Stakes and tiedown
- Contact information for your veterinarian
- Animal’s medication
Where To Find More Information
Many of these agencies provide materials in accessible formats and different languages.
National Organization on Disability/Emergency Preparedness Initiative
American Council of the Blind
The American Veterinary Medical Association
Downloadable and searchable CD-ROM for veterinarians, veterinary technicians, emergency managers, and others that includes planning templates and other critical information
Information for users of service animals
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Humane Society of the U.S. (Disaster Center)
National Association of the Deaf
NOAA Weather Radio
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The National Organization on Disability gratefully acknowledges support from AIG and the Walmart Foundation.