Rescue Official Advises Owners: Prepare for Disaster

In the wake of recent California wildfires, an animal rescue official reminds horse owners that planning is critical to helping their horses through natural disasters. "Whether it's a threat of wildfires, floods, tornadoes or hurricanes, people in disaster-prone areas tend to become desensitized about the prospect of having to evacuate themselves and their animals," says Terry Paik, DVM, veterinary response coordinator for San Diego County, Calif. "It's important for people to have a plan."

Paik says an effective disaster preparedness plan begins with the awareness that certain disasters can occur. After that, he recommends horse owners concentrate on the basics. "Most of the problems we see when we evacuate animals are injuries from horses kicking each other or from loading problems," he says. "It's critical that people train their horses to load into a trailer quietly, and get them used to being around other horses."

In areas with large horse populations, Paik advises owners to talk with their neighbors to identify evacuation routes, post-evacuation assembly sites out of harm's way, and locations where horses can be kept until the danger passes. He also recommends that neighbors pool an inventory of trailers and other transport vehicles, and that they keep those vehicles fueled and ready to go.

"The point is to have somewhere to go and a way to get their horses there," he says.

Before an evacuation, Paik recommends that trailers be stocked with enough water and hay to last between 48 and 72 hours, and that owners assemble emergency preparedness kits that include a water bucket, leg wraps, fire-resistant/non-nylon leads and halters, first aid items, a portable radio and extra batteries, a flashlight, a sharp knife, and wire cutters.

"Medications should also be included, especially if an owner has a geriatric horse," he says.

Post-evacuation preparedness is also critical when it comes to reuniting horses with their owners after a disaster. Paik advises that owners carry their horses' vaccination records and other medical records, as well as registration or other documents that can be used to identify the horse and confirm ownership.

"Even having a photograph of the horse is helpful," Paik adds. "But we're doing more and more microchipping as well. Most counties in disaster-prone areas have animal services personnel and those people usually have microchip scanners to identify evacuated animals."

Finally, Paik advises horse owners to stay abreast of breaking storm news via radio and heed official warnings to evacuate. "Then," he says, "Stay calm and stick to the plan."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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