In the rush to prepare for Hurricane Irene, it might be easy to overlook the family members with four legs.
Pet owners must remember to include their cats, dogs and other animals in their plans as they identify evacuation destinations and pack their bags and disaster kits in anticipation of the storm.
It may seem obvious, but more than one-third of dog and cat owners don't have disaster preparedness plans in place, according to a recent survey by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Irene began to whip the East Coast with rain and wind early Friday and is expected to bring punishing winds, volumes of rain and massive storm surges north from the Carolinas all the way to New England as the weekend progresses. Some estimates put more than 19 million households in the path of the storm, which means as many as 25 million pets could be affected.
Here are some things to remember to keep pets safe until the hurricane passes:
_ Do not leave dogs chained outside as the storm approaches, as the force of winds and driving rain may escalate quickly. "If there's danger for you, there's danger for the pet ," said Devera Lynn, a spokeswoman for North Shore Animal League America, based in Port Washington, N.Y.
_ Make sure your pet has an updated identification tag with a cellphone number on it, in case you are separated and emergency personnel must reunite you and your pet. After the tornado in Joplin, Mo., in May, the ASPCA found that many pet owners had included only home phone numbers, making it difficult to contact them when their homes were destroyed.
_ Similarly, if your pet is microchipped, provide your cellphone number to the tracking service. Contact information for a friend or family member outside the hurricane zone can also help ensure you'll be reunited if you are separated.
_ Pack a go-bag for your pet with bowls, a leash and collar, any needed medications, a familiar toy, some treats and three-to-five days of food and water. Include a manual can opener if your pet eats canned food, and litter for your cat. Also include a photo, veterinary records _ particularly vaccination and prescription records _ and a contact number for your vet, along with your pet's microchip number if applicable, sealed in a waterproof bag. All of this information may be needed if you must evacuate to a shelter. A pet-focused first-aid kit can also be useful.
_ Make sure your destination is pet friendly. While 85 percent of pet owners expect to bring their pets with them if they must evacuate according to the ASPCA, it's important to know in advance if shelters and hotels will welcome animals.
_ Travel with your cat or dog in a crate that is big enough to accommodate it for a few days. Include a familiar blanket, pillow or favorite toy to help the pet feel secure and comfortable.
_ Do not leave your pet home alone. If you're not sure where to take your pet, contact your vet or local animal shelter for advice.
AFTER THE STORM
_ Do not allow your pet to drink water or eat food that may have been contaminated.
_ Watch for downed power lines and other dangers. Walk dogs through the neighborhood on a leash to help them reorient if there is extensive damage.
_ If your pet is missing, contact your local animal shelter as soon as possible.
_ Monitor your pet for defensive or aggressive behavior, which may occur after a disaster.
For more information, visit the Food and Drug Administration's website for details on caring for pets during a disaster, http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/ucm047099.htm, or the ASPCA website at www.aspca.org.