As a cat, I naturally do not enjoy rainy days. Teeney and I get stuck in the office (we don’t like to get our paws wet). While I’m happy Hurricane Irene is no longer headed our way, I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss getting your property and animals ready for a hurricane.
This is definitely another case of “the best defense is a good offense.” Always keep an eye on trees that may become a problem and have them trimmed up or removed as soon as possible. Limbs become flying debris during high winds and can cause life threatening injuries to our animals and our homes and barns. If you have a burn pile it should be burned down before hurricane season starts if possible (minding any burn bans in your area, of course). Assess your property for likely problem areas so you can be prepared once the winds and rain die down. Be sure you know where all your important papers are located. We all think about insurance documents, wills and that sort of thing, but don’t forget about identifying paperwork for your horses. Now is the time to take photos of your other animals to help document your ownership, including a family member in the picture. If possible, scan or photograph paperwork and email it to yourself, as well as a friend or relative out of the path of the hurricane. This ensures that even if you have a problem accessing your paperwork, it is still “findable.”
Animals can add a new dimension to evacuation plans. Will you evacuate or stay in place and ride out the storm? If you plan on evacuating, make sure your animals are welcome at the evacuation site. Following Hurricane Katrina, new guidelines were put in place to make it easier to evacuate with your dogs and cats. Horses are not part of this plan, and they require quite a bit more planning. Many of the large horse show facilities become evacuation centers, but this needs to be evaluated ahead of the storm. Can you transport all your animals to the evacuation site, and if not, what will you do with the others?
Identification becomes a major problem following disasters. There are a lot of bay, chestnut and gray horses out there. You will be reunited with your animals more quickly if you make sure it is easy for aid workers to identify your animals. Microchips are one of the easiest, fastest, and most secure ways to do this. We embed a small chip in your horse’s neck under local anesthesia, which carries a unique identification number registered to you. This, along with a recent Coggins form or registration papers, makes it very easy to match horse and owner. Microchips are also available for your dog and cat. In fact, most animals can be microchipped. Many zoos and aquariums microchip all of their animals from elephants to fish! For long distance identification, a grease marker or set of clippers can be used to write your telephone number (which is linked to your name and address) on your horse’s coat. This should be visible from a distance so rescue workers can quickly identify that this horse has an owner they may be able to locate. It is also a good idea to have a back up phone number for someone who lives out of the disaster path. This person should be aware that they have been chosen and should have copies of pictures and paperwork identifying your horse (and your other animals). Many times local phone systems go down during disasters, and a distant number may be the only way of contacting you!
One question we often get is, “Where should I put my horse during the storm?” The best answer is outside, in the largest pasture available with the fewest trees, wearing a leather halter. The best identified horse has grease pen phone numbers on both sides and phone numbers written in permanent marker on strips of cloth braided in to the mane and tail. Luggage tags may also be braided into the mane and tail for identification purposes. Being outside allows our horses to avoid debris if at all possible, and prevents them from getting trapped in case of structural failure of the barn. One of our clients turned her horses out in a 100 acre cow field during Hurricane Charley. They could watch the horses and cattle line up in a long line with their backs to the wind. The line gradually moved out from under the trees and then back again as the storm went through. If given the opportunity, most of our horses will do the right thing! However, some horses will not tolerate this, and behave like maniacs. In that case, keep your horse in the sturdiest barn you have access to, considering elevation of the barn if flooding is a concern in your area. This may not be on your property! Consider people in or near your neighborhood who may have more adequate facilities, and make plans in advance on where your horse can go locally. Board up any openings to the outside to keep debris from flying in to the stall but make sure there is adequate air flow. Whether your horses are in a barn or in a field, be familiar with possible alternatives for access points, should the main entry become obstructed by debris.
This is just a start on hurricane preparedness. Look for much more information at our Open House on October 8th, 2011 from 10am to 1pm (so we can all get home for the football game – Go Gators!). You can also find additional information at www.AAEP.org, www.AVMA.org, and www.floridahorse.com/hurricane.
May your litter box always be clean and your food bowl full!!