The boy scouts’ honored creed applies to all aspects of our lives, especially as cat breeders. How prepared are you in the event of an emergency evacuation? Whether it is a brush fire out of control, a devastating earthquake, or an electrical fire in your house, it is a good idea to consider “worst-case scenarios” and think about how your cats would be taken care of in a disaster.
As we came to the end of the cul-de-sac on which we live after a long day at the our Regional show, I turned to my husband Michael and wondered out loud, “Where is all that water coming from?”
As our headlights beamed upward, we saw that our two-story home had been converted into a massive, cascading water fountain. Leaving our poor, tired Turkish Angora, Fuzzy, in the car, we ran through the front door and sloshed through ankle deep water to discover high pressure water from our upstairs laundry room hosing down our house like an amorous male American Shorthair christening a judging cage.
Our cats were perched on the pot shelves and furniture with soaked paws and wet tails. We were able to get the water stopped and started to work mopping up the mess. We figured that new carpet and a good drying would fix us up like new. How wrong we were!
When the appropriately named “Disaster Kleen-Up” folks arrived the next day, after a quick assessment of the situation they gave us the bad news: we had to evacuate the house. NOW! Since the water had been present for more than 24 hours by then, the bottom half of all the walls had to be ripped out immediately to prevent mold growth.
But where is a cat fancier supposed to go when it is time to get out in a hurry?
The key to a successful evacuation is PREPAREDNESS and PRACTICE.
In 1993 when a bomb went off in the World Trade Center, the evacuation of all employees took six hours to complete. On September 11th, 2001, evacuation took only two hours, saving thousands of lives. What was the difference? A well-thought out evacuation plan, training of all individuals, and repeated fire drills so that the process became automatic and efficient. These same principles can be applied to our catteries.
Do you have a carrier for every cat in your house? This is essential. Optimally, have on hand enough plastic carriers that are large enough to hold a small litter pan to keep your cat comfortable (albeit cramped) for a couple of days if necessary. But if you do not have the storage space for this, collapsible cardboard carriers can be assembled in seconds with practice. These cardboard carriers are shipped in a flat container. When the box arrives, slit it open for fast access. Keep these located near or in your cat rooms. Keep an inventory of “untouchable” carriers no less than the number of cats in your home. Don’t borrow one for that kitten sale today, promising to replace it “tomorrow”! Heavy cloth “evac sacks” are another option. While you may consider a stack of pillowcase to pop a cat into in an emergency, a determined, frightened cat can actually chew a hole through a pillowcase.
For quick and easy evacuation purposes, I keep plastic carriers with the doors wedged open in my nursery cages for queens and their kittens. I can grab a second carrier and deposit Mom-cat in it, scoop the kittens into their own carrier, and move the whole family very quickly. Do you know how many carriers can fit in your family’s car(s)? Find out NOW.
A Place To Go
Do you have a friend or family member outside of the immediate area that has space to keep *all* your cats in an emergency? Getting the cats out is only the first step. Although shelters were set up for evacuated animals such as during the recent fires in Southern California, exposing your cattery cats to stress and infectious agents from these types of crowded conditions can be asking for trouble. Even a relative with a large garage can be a godsend.
Are all your cats identified and registered with a microchipping service? You may be injured, unconscious, or unable to access your animals in the case of a disaster. Microchip identification is the easiest way to make sure your cats are returned to you after a disaster, that you can alert those caring for your cats about a certain cat’s special needs, or that your wishes concerning their future are obeyed. Are all your cats presentable, well-socialized, and in good health in case another person has to take over their care tomorrow?
How long will it take you to capture all your cats, get them into carriers, and get them out of the house? You will never know until you try. A fire drill may confuse your cats for the day, but you will quickly learn about who in your household hides… and where! Have a neighbor pound on your door in the middle of the night unannounced to practice a real-life scenario. I now have a large ladder just outside the back door that I didn’t keep there before. Turkish Angoras love seven-foot-high pot shelves, you see.
Keep your number of cats down to the minimum needed for your program’s goals. If the thought of an evacuation makes your heart pound in panic that some cats may have to be left behind, reconsider the size of your cattery. Being able to care for a large number of cats includes having the ability to evacuate them in an emergency.
Make An Evacuation List
Make a list, right now, of what other items you would grab in the face of a quick evacuation. People under stress choose the strangest items to bring with them, only to regret it later. Medications and your address book should top your list. Scan those family pictures and important paper documents now, burn three CDs, and send them to two different relatives. Back up your computer hard drive regularly and keep it at another location.
When looking at your list, prioritize the items using the criteria of “ease of replacement”. Be honest. Is that collectible REALLY rare, or will you be able to easily find it later on Ebay? Remember, if you have a good insurance policy (have you examined it lately?), they will reimburse you for the cost of replacing your household items and reasonable expenses incurred during the evacuation, such as food, housing, and clothing. Keep receipts for your expenses. DO NOT take cat food, litter, food dishes or litter pans with you in the case of an evacuation. These can be provided for you easily by your fellow cat fanciers.
Keep a cell phone with you at all times, keep it charged, and make sure that a few key people have the number. Networking to help out a cat fancier in need can only occur if we KNOW that person needs help. Remember, though, that cellular service can be disrupted in some disasters. Look for a house with a BIG antenna on it in your neighborhood. Amateur radio operators can get emergency information to you and let your family know you are safe when your cell phone says “no signal”.
DO NOT leave your cats behind. Even if your house is unaffected by a fire, for instance, you may not be able to gain access to the area for days, or even weeks. What appears to be a temporary or local condition may worsen in scope.
In the case of a disaster, reach out and contact a member of the cat fancy with Internet access. Through this medium, your fellow cat fanciers can work together and get you all the help and support you need.
We were lucky. We were given hours to evacuate instead of minutes. Also, a complete evacuation was deemed unnecessary when a second consultant arrived on the scene and found some rooms to be unaffected by the flood. But if the call ever comes for YOU to evacuate, you may have only minutes to ensure the safety of yourself and your cats. BE PREPARED.
Oh… and remember to turn off the water supply to your washing machine every time you leave the house. Trust me on this one!