Seven ways to protect your pets in an emergency


Originally published on The Conversation, this article was authored by Dr Mel Taylor from the Department of Psychology.

If you’ve been following media coverage of the post-hurricane flooding in Texas during the last couple of weeks, you will have seen many images and accounts of people evacuating with their pets.

You will no doubt also have seen emergency responders and volunteers rescuing abandoned pets and stranded horses and livestock. Similar stories play out during all types of natural disasters, whether they’re floods, cyclones, or bushfires.

An estimated 63 per cent of Australian households have at least one pet – one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world – and including those pets in your emergency plan can be vital.

Last week, a New South Wales coronial inquest into the 2015 Hunter Valley floods heard that an elderly resident who drowned refused to leave her home without her dog and bird, prompting parliamentary questions to the NSW minister for emergency services over provisions for animals in emergencies.

I have spent the past three years leading a project on animal management in emergencies, which considers the challenges for emergency responders, as well as owners of pets, horses, pet livestock, animal-related businesses, and livestock farmers.

Recently we have teamed up with a community-led group in the Blue Mountains, Blue ARC Animal Ready Community, to focus on identifying and helping to solve local challenges and barriers to emergency preparedness and planning for animals.

So if you have animals, what can you do to protect them? The first thing to do is check general resources on emergency plans. Unfortunately, there is no Australia-wide emergency response approach, so it’s important to make plans that are suited to your own situation and the help you have available.

Here are my seven top tips for taking care of your animals in an emergency:

  1. It sounds obvious, but creating an emergency plan that includes pets is the first step. If you don’t have a household plan, the Australian Red Cross Rediplan is a good place to start. Consider a range of potential emergencies in your planning: heatwaves, prolonged loss of power, floods, cyclones and bushfires. Most importantly, think about every creature in your household: our research suggests that chooks are popular but often not considered when it comes to emergency planning.
  2. Plan to leave early. Evacuating with animals can take longer, especially when you have multiple types of animals or need to make multiple journeys. Don’t plan to leave animals behind, or plan to leave a household member behind to take care of the animals. Stay aware of weather conditions and emergency warnings.
  3. Have an emergency kit for your animals: fill a “go bag” (or box) with items you’ll need if you need to leave in a hurry. If you have essentials you can’t afford to leave in a box, make a checklist and know where they are. There are some excellent checklists available online to get you started.
  4. Plan where you will take your animals. Emergency services can’t help evacuate your pets or larger animals in emergency situations, and not all evacuation centres will accept them. The official position is that your animals are your responsibility, so you need to know where you’ll take your animals and how you’ll get them there. Most people rely on taking them to friends or family, but this can sometimes mean that different animals need to go to different places.
  5. Plan for what will happen if you’re not at home, or can’t get back home. No one likes considering this situation, but it is often a reality. Speak to neighbours or nearby friends about what you would like them to do if you’re not home (and offer them your support if they’re away). Make sure you have contact numbers for neighbours and those who might be able to help in these situations.
  6. If you have horses or other large animals, find a buddy. Horses and other large pet livestock are special cases in emergencies: their size means that there are additional challenges in their handling, loading, transportation, and relocation. Many equine groups have guidance for horse owners and advocate buddy systems to help owners. There are also networking systems, such as Walking Forward Disaster Relief Team, that help horse owners pre-arrange safer places to relocate their animals ahead of emergencies.
  7. Hardest of all: practice your plan. Most emergency preparedness advice suggests that you practice your plan, but it’s particularly important with pets. It’s better to find out early that your ideal plan doesn’t work in practice. Finding work-arounds, and making a plan B and C, is far easier without the threat of imminent danger.

Remember, your animals depend on you. Plan for all the human and non-human animals in your household and stay safe.

September 16 and 17 2017 is the NSW Rural Fire Service-led Get Ready weekend, with various bushfire awareness and preparedness activities being planned across the state. To support that event in the Blue Mountains, we have co-developed, with Blue ARC and the Resilience and Preparedness Group, posters and flyers encouraging residents to make an emergency plan for all the family, including links to useful resources.





Back to homepage


Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *

We encourage active and constructive debate through our comments section, but please remain respectful. Your first and last name will be published alongside your comment.

Comments will not be pre-moderated but any comments deemed to be offensive, obscene, intimidating, discriminatory or defamatory will be removed and further action may be taken where such conduct breaches University policy or standards. Please keep in mind that This Week is a public site and comments should not contain information that is confidential or commercial in confidence.

  1. In the 2013 Blue Mountain Bush Fires large animals (horses, sheep, goats, alpacas, chickens and more) were able to be housed at Hawkesbury Showground. For large animal owners you should talk to your local club, society or group, to see if there is such a resource locally available. I know Castle Hill showground was available in 2002, but I really need to check after the redevelopment surrounding it for the metro line.

    The other thing to be aware of, is that police will NOT let anybody into a fire zone to rescue an animal. Once the evacuation order is given they will stop you trying to get back to your animal. We always tell our members that evacuation of livestock should happen two to three days before you need to. It is better to suffer the problems of moving animals without trying to do it in an evacuation scenario.

    Finally, everybody who has large animals (including horses) should have a PIC from the LLS ( You need to record the transport of your animal(s) to the venue, which will have its own PIC. This is, of course, needed for disease management and when livestock are stressed this is when they pick up bugs from new neighbours!

  2. This is such an interesting article. It’s something we probably don’t give enough thought to. I recently came across a website (based in the US) advertising tags for people to attach to their car or house keys simply saying “I have a pet at home alone”. Such a simple little thing, but in case you are involved in a motor vehicle accident or collapse somewhere, at least the relevant authorities are aware that someone is a four-legged creature who must be looked after.

    1. I have one of these cards in my wallet.
      It’ll be interesting to find out if MQ is ready to act as an emergency shelter for local residents in an emergency.

    2. Hi Beverley,
      I am right there with you! As a pet owner, this article prompted me to think about getting one of those cards and to reassess our emergency strategy. Our pups are part of our family and so should be in our plan!

Got a story to share?

Visit our contribute page >>