News Item | PAWS Chicago

Protecting your pet from natural disasters

by Jaclene Tetzlaff | Nov 01, 2011

This past July, Chicagoland pet lovers found themselves feeling profound sympathy for flood victims following 122-year rainfall record. While tens of thousands of residents found themselves without power or sorting through destroyed property, lost memories and damaged basements, one family lost so much more – they woke to find their three dogs, who were crated in evenings, drowned in the basement under eight feet of water. 

This haunting story flashes us back to the images that remain with us following Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of pets were left behind in the wake of the devastating storm. The ones that survived were separated from their owners... many stranded, injured and homeless. The resulting outcry from people who were forced to leave their pets during the evacuation made the government realize how important pets are to the family, and the dire need of them to be included in any evacuation plan. 

Last February, Chicago got hit by a huge blizzard that shut down the city, paralyzing Lake Shore Drive, and leaving hundreds of thousands without power (including my own household). Following the blizzard, temperatures plummeted to sub-zero lows. My home was without electricity for two and a half days. To make matters worse, our vehicle was stuck in our garage because the alleys weren’t plowed. We had no choice but to stay put for a while. I admit, I was a little scared. I truly didn’t anticipate being without electricity. Thankfully, we had flashlights with batteries that worked, snacks, and enough bottled water for us and the dogs. Our two fireplaces offered just enough warmth to keep the pipes from freezing. At night, our dogs snuggled under the covers and we all kept each other warm.

The experience made me realize the importance of having a plan and being prepared for an emergency, only emphasized by tragedies that have been in the news, which show we must plan for the unexpected. 

The National Weather Service has predicted for this year that Chicago will have a particularly severe winter with dangerously plunging temperatures and heavier than usual amounts of snow. Preparing now can prevent or aid in a disaster, and help keep you and your pet(s) feel more comfortable.

Governments now consider pets family during evacuation—but do you have an emergency plan?

Thirteen months after the Katrina disaster, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act became federal law. It requires local and state authorities to include pets into the evacuation plan. FEMA now emphasizes, “If you evacuate your home, do not leave your pets behind. Pets most likely cannot survive on their own, and if by some remote chance they do, you may not be able to find them when you return.” 

While we don’t get hurricanes in the Midwest, we do have our share of other natural disasters: tornadoes, flooding, blizzards, heat waves, and even earthquakes. Everyone can agree that this past year’s weather has been extreme. Spring and summer brought record rainfalls that led to massive flooding. Be aware that water that comes up through the drains is often contaminated from the sewer system and can be hazardous to you and your pets. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes brought down trees and power lines, leaving large numbers of people without power for days. Loss of electricity can leave you with no water, no refrigerator, and no food. In summer, that means no air conditioning and in winter, no heat. In severely high or low temperatures, these conditions can be dangerous to humans and pets alike. 

When a storm is approaching, pets can usually sense it, and may begin to behave strangely. They may try to run, hide in a closet, or crawl under the bed. My dog Rusty, for example, runs into the basement and pants rapidly. It is important to keep your pets close to you during a severe storm. You may even want to put a leash on them to better hold them near. You don’t want to lose track of them should a sudden disaster strike. Remember, basements can quickly become flooded; trees can be struck by lightning and fall onto the roof. You don’t want to be scrambling for your beloved pet during a time when you need to keep a clear head.

A simple rule of thumb: if your dog must go out during a storm (winter or summer), keep him on a leash and go outside together. Once the business is done, return inside quickly. Don’t let your dog go outside alone, even if you have a fenced-in yard. He may be nervous and hide under bushes or, worse yet, try to escape.

Always remember to help others

If all is well with you and your loved ones, check on your neighbors. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Your neighbor may have lost a cat or dog, and could use extra assistance. I once checked on my elderly neighbor and she had indeed lost her dog. I ran through the neighborhood calling for her, and found her very near the highway on an embankment. She knew me well and ran to me, and I happily returned her home. 

If you plan ahead, and are prepared for all of what Mother Nature has to offer, you will be able to remain calm, think more clearly, and ensure that you, your family, and your beloved pets stay safe during a disaster.

Emergency Checklist

For a complete emergency checklist, visit the Humane Society of the United States’ website: or the FEMA website:


  • Make sure your pet has proper identification. Both a microchip and a collar ID tag are best. The microchip can still be read if the collar or ID tag comes off.
  • Keep a photo of you and your pet, along with a copy of veterinary records in a plastic bag. This will help for later identification and proof of ownership, should you and your pet get separated. 
  • Make sure all your contact information is up-to-date, including mobile phone and email. Offer alternate phone numbers of friends and family if possible.
  • Make a list of possible places to go if you cannot stay in your home. Check them out in advance to make sure the place is animal-friendly.
  • Before a storm approaches, prepare a disaster kit for you as well as your pet(s).

Disaster Kit checklist

  • Vet records, licenses, vaccinations, and photos in a plastic bag
  • Important phone numbers, including your Vet, emergency clinic or other destinations
  • Pet first aid kit and any medications
  • Toys, chews, treats, blankets, towels
  • Pet waste clean-up supplies, sprays, paper towels
  • Food and unbreakable pet dishes
  • Extra leash and collar
  • Carriers for smaller pets


For horses and farm animals, visit for a checklist.