Got pets? Get prepared!

Nicole Graham helps American Staffordshire, Atlas, into the back of her SUV which has a pet pad in the back for transportation. Dan Watson/The Signal

With a record-breaking fire season last summer, Nicole Graham knew it was a matter of when rather than if a blaze would break out close to her Stevenson Ranch home. The answer came in late July, when Graham’s neighborhood was evacuated due to the Pico Fire.

Since she has four dogs and two cats, Graham had their safety top of mind in such a situation. “I’m more prepared for my pets than I am for myself,” she said.

That means a crate, a three-day supply of food, water, and vaccination/medical records for each pet, stored in bins in Graham’s garage and ready to pack in her SUV in a moment’s notice.

“If you’re prepared, it’s just a matter of loading up, which can happen within 15 minutes,” she said.

April is Pet Emergency Preparedness Month and taking steps such as Graham’s can go a long way towards successfully navigating an earthquake, fire, or other natural or manmade disaster, according to veterinarian Evelyn Vega of Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia.

“You never know when an emergency may happen. Being prepared lets you be calmer and more collected because you have a plan versus having to think on the spot,” Vega said.

From left, Jake Baxter, one-year-old American Staffordshire, Atlas, and twelve-year-old pit-mix, Maddie look on as Nicole Graham checks her emergency supply box for her pets. Dan Watson/The Signal

Not sure where to start with your own plan? Vega suggested the following:

  • Medications and medical records (stored in a waterproof container)
  • First Aid kit with items such as bandages, wound ointment, and
  • Sturdy leashes, harnesses, and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that your animals can’t escape
  • Current photos and microchip information of your pets in case they get lost
  • Food, drinkable water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and a manual can opener
  • Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets
  • Blankets to keep you and your pets warm in case of cold weather

Having a backup in case you’re not able to evacuate with your pets is important, as well, as Kyle Harris, pet sitter and owner of Kyle’s Custom Critter Care, illustrated.

Nicole Graham puts two-year-old female Siamese mix, Dot cat into a cat carrier for transportation. Dan Watson/The Signal

“You should have a couple of people in mind. Say you work in the valley and there’s an emergency out here, you’ll need to have a friend or neighbor designated as an emergency person,” she said. “These should be people who know your pets and you should have several to contact, in case one person isn’t available.”

Pet sitters like Harris are another option. Several of her clients have called her in an emergency not just to help with pets, but to turn off gas lines and handle other safety measures.

Another key point Harris stressed is having a location planned in advance that you can comfortably stay with your pets, which is something she discovered wasn’t always possible at evacuation shelters.

Harris fled to such a shelter a few years ago when a fire broke out near her Canyon Country home. “I got there and was told I couldn’t bring my dogs in, so we stayed in the car,” Harris said.

Jake Baxter, left, and Nicole Graham prepare twelve-year-old Chihuahua, Coco and pitbull mix, Maddie for transportation in their car carriers. Dan Watson/The Signal

Hotels may not be a good option for pet owners in an emergency, either.

“During the Paradise fire, hotels booked up quickly and some jacked up their rates so high that it wasn’t affordable for most people,” she said. “Try to make arrangements with friends or family in another place you can evacuate to, instead.”

That’s what Graham did when she evacuated from the Ranch Fire with her pack, staying for a short time with a friend who had room for all of Graham’s pets.

Being prepared makes an already stressful situation much more manageable and also brings her peace of mind, Graham said. “My pets are family. I just couldn’t handle if something were to happen to them.”

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