You never forget the gut-wrenching scenes. An anxious horse entangled in a barbed-wire fence as floodwaters swirl ever higher around him. A dog clinging desperately to a rooftop, inches from the rising water. Bloated livestock corpses bobbing alongside sodden logs or debris. Half-buried animals struggling to escape from mud.
"Whether it's a hurricane, flood, wildfire, or other natural or manmade disaster, an animal evacuation plan can make the difference between life, death, or tremendous suffering for pets and livestock," says Dr. Mark Michalke. He's a field veterinarian for the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) and leader of the Evacuation Committee for the Texas Emergency Response Team (TERT).
Here, we'll share with you tips for developing a disaster plan. While some of these were developed by TERT, they apply to problems anywhere.
Tip: Depending on the disaster, you may need to evacuate your horse or try to ride out the ordeal at home. Either way, we suggest that you put your plan in writing, and give copies to your family, neighbors and barn helpers. That way, if disaster threatens when you're not around, they'll know what to do.
Map An Evacuation Plan
If you should need to evacuate your horses, where would you go? Now's the time to decide--before disaster strikes. It may be as simple as hauling them to higher ground, or you might need to find stabling options elsewhere.
Contact show grounds and fairgrounds, to see if they have unused blocks of stalls. (Have several options in different areas.) Says Dr. Michalke, "Establish a relationship with facilities outside your area before a crisis, and keep phone numbers and addresses handy."
Once you've identified a place to take your horses, be proactive, should a crisis strike. "Calling ahead to reserve space will increase your chances of gaining space for your animals," advises Dr. Michalke.
Map several routes (one could be blocked), and determine how you'll get your horse there. Check with your regional disaster planning and emergency services for routes and other evacuation ideas.
Do you have a trailer? If not, make other plans for emergency transport. If you'll be using your rig, keep it evacuation-ready. Perform a weekly check to be sure tires are aired up, trailer floorboards are solid and safe, and that the hitch is in working order. Keep your truck gassed up.
Adds Dr. Michalke, "Leave early and allow time for hauling. Don't wait until roads become congested or impassable, as this will stress your animals."
Don't forget to plan for yourself and your pets. "Most shelters will not accept pets, so it's important to know ahead of time where animals can be housed," says Dr. Michalke.
Make An Emergency Evacuation Kit
If waters are rising or flames are licking at the barn door, the last thing you want to be doing is scrambling around trying to find halters, lead ropes and buckets. Assemble an evacuation kit before the crisis strikes, advises Dr. Michalke, and keep it in an easily accessible place (such as your trailer, if you have one).
In your kit, include:
- At least a 3-day supply of food (hay and grain), plus two buckets (for food and water) for every horse.
- If you have a way to transport water, such as the specially designed, watertight plastic saddle stands made for trailer travel, or other such large, watertight containers, fill them. Water can be hard to come by in a disaster, so you'll better ensure that your horse has a safe supply.
- A halter and lead rope for every horse. Add stud chains in case you need them for extra control. Tip: Have dog i.d. tags made, with the horse's name, plus your name, address, and phone number. Or, write the info on each halter with a permanent marker. That way, if your horse should escape or be moved, you'll have a better chance of him being returned to you.
- Copies of registration papers, brand-inspection records, and health records--including a negative Coggins
- At least a 3-day supply of any medications your horse might need.
- Several photos of each horse, to aid in identification. Horses and pets may be shuffled from one site to another during a chaotic situation. Riding It Out
If you can't evacuate, or doing so would be more dangerous to you than staying put, use the following tips:
- Before water lines break or power goes down, fill several large, clean 30- to 55-gallon plastic garbage cans with drinking water for your horses. (Don't forget your family and pets!) You'll need a 3- to 10-day supply. (The average adult horse drinks about 10 to 15 gallons a day, so let that be your guide.)
- Set out flashlights and lanterns, along with a supply of fresh batteries.
- Consider turning out your horses into a safely fenced pasture with shelter. Generally, they'll be safer in a pasture than in a barn, which could burn or collapse.
- Outfit each horse in a leather halter outfitted with either an ID tag or hand-written contact information. (See "Emergency Evacuation Kit," above.)
- Close barn doors, so panicked horses can't run back inside.
- Turn off power and gas lines.TERT AT A GLANCE
Texas Emergency Response Team members quickly recognized the need to address animal evacuation in disasters, particularly after Texas' devastating October l998 flood, in which more than 23,000 cattle drowned. Another 400 hogs, sheep, horses, and poultry also were killed in the violent storm that struck 21 counties in south-central Texas. TERT was originally formed by the TAHC (the state's livestock health regulatory agency), and Texas staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Veterinary Services. The team was developed to address devastating foreign pests, diseases, or bio-terrorism. On the governor's emergency management team, TERT serves with the Texas Department of Health in collaboration with the Texas Veterinary Medical Association and other livestock and health agencies. For more online equine emergency and disaster preparedness resources, visit www.aaep.org/emergency_prep.htm.