It was 1:20 AM and, in the darkness, a glow appeared off in the distance. The smell of smoke confirmed what everyone at Living Free Animal Sanctuary already knew—a fire had started and was headed right towards the property, aided by strong winds. People were hurriedly roused from their sleep with an enormous task ahead of them: to prepare the 200 rescue animals at the sanctuary for evacuation.
The Bonita Fire started on February 15, 2021, near the town of Mountain Center, CA. All the dogs, cats, and horses of Living Free were loaded up and ready to evacuate within two hours of receiving the news. Fortunately, the fire was contained by the Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department and all our animals were returned to their familiar homes without needing to be evacuated.
This was not the first time Living Free has had to act quickly in the face of a major wildfire emergency. Just 4 years ago, the Cranston Fire swept through the area and caused the sanctuary to evacuate for several days as firefighters fought to contain it. It has been essential to have a plan in place to guarantee the safety of all our animals and staff.
Wildfire season seems to start earlier and earlier every year. With the ongoing severe drought in California, 2022 may be one of the worst years yet for fires. While no one wants to think it will happen to them, it’s critical for the safety of your family to have an emergency plan in place.
Here is a basic checklist for making sure your home is ready in the event of an emergency.
A “Go-bag” for your animals:
An easy to grab, pre-packed bag saves time when you need to leave the house in a matter of minutes. Here are some essential items to consider:
■ Food: Several days’ worth of your pet’s food and travel collapsible bowls for mealtimes.
■ Water: Bottles or large water containers.
■ Leash and collar with ID tags: A back-up set for each animal, in case you don’t have time to grab their everyday ones.
■ Sanitation supplies: Cleaning supplies such as towels, bleach, deodorizer, dish soap, and trash bags. A bag of cat litter and a small travel-sized litter box for your cat. Doggie poop bags for your pup.
■ Important documents: Copies of your pet’s medical records, adoption papers, and registration. Current photos of you with your pet(s) in case they get lost. Since many pets look alike, this will help to eliminate mistaken identity and confusion.
■ First aid kit: A basic pet first aid kit contains cotton bandages, bandage tape and scissors, antibiotic ointment, isopropyl alcohol, and latex gloves. Talk to your veterinarian for a more indepth list of pet first aid kit necessities.
■ General information about your pets: Feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets.
■ Familiar items: A few well-loved dog toys, blankets, and treats to give your pet comfort in a stressful situation.
■ Travel carrier or crate.
Create an evacuation plan:
Know what role each member of your family will plan in the event of an emergency.
■ Know where your go-bag is located: You should place your emergency essentials in an easy-to-remember and easily accessible location.
■ Map out what needs to happen first: Plan for what works best for your household. For example, one person can load the car with go-bags while another wrangles all the animals.
■ Have emergency contacts for you and your pet: Know where the closest emergency veterinarian is located. Gather your neighbors’ or local friends’ and family’s phone numbers just in case you need to stay with them or get help taking care of your animals.
■ Choose designated caregivers: Select someone who can evacuate your pets and grab your go-bag in case you are too far from your home when an emegency happens. This is also very important in case of a personal emergency – accidents happen.
■ Designate a meeting spot: If you are traveling in multiple vehicles, make sure you have a meeting place in case you get separated.
■ Obtain “Pets Inside” stickers: Place them on your doors or windows to let firefighters and rescue workers know you have animals in your home. Designate what types of animals and how many by writing on the sticker. Make sure to write “Evacuated with Pets” on the stickers if you do take the animals with you.
The more prepared you are for an emergency, the easier it will be to jump into action if something does happen that requires you to evacuate your home.
Additional information and in-depth emergency preparedness guidelines can be found at ready.gov.
Is your pet microchipped? An updated and registered microchip can’t get lost, won’t fall off or wiggle loose, and is always with your pet. If your dog or cat is separated from you, a microchip is one of the first things animal control checks for to reunite lost pets with their humans.