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Pet owners should prepare their animals for emergencies

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Published on: Friday, June 21, 2013

By Alexis A. Goring

June is National Pet Preparedness Month, and pet owners are encouraged to remember to take the necessary steps to prepare and protect their pets in cases of natural disasters or emergency evacuations.

Prince George’s County Office of Emergency Management and the Department of Environmental Resources Animal Management Division urged all pet owners to be resourceful when preparing their pet in case of an emergency situation. Proper preparation is important to increase the likelihood of surviving an emergency or evacuation.

“Emergency preparedness is for everyone, especially pets,” said Ronald E. Gill Jr., Director of the Office of Emergency Management. “This is critical because, often times, pet owners refuse to evacuate during a disaster because they can’t take their pet with them, or they return to danger zones to save their pet. It is vitally important that pets are included in your family plan.”

Pet owners should have a plan for both evacuating and sheltering-in-place before an emergency happens. Such plans include having adequate supplies on hand, including food, water and medication for at least 72 hours.

“We have information we give out all the time, we have flyers on our website about being prepared,” said Chief Rodney Taylor of Prince George’s County Animal Management Division. “We want to be a resource more so than a housing facility. … We want to inform people of different avenues you can take in preparing your pet.”

Like humans, pets can suffer from stress, anxiety and depression after being displaced due to an emergency or disaster. Therefore, it is important to be sensitive to that fact and to help pets ease back into normalcy upon returning to home after an evacuation, officials said.

“Animals will stress out and not only will they stress out from anxiety, but they can do different things — we’ve had animals that come into our facility that are so stressed that they just go around in a circle. And, then, they can get depressed,” Taylor said. “An animal (is) in the owner’s home for 10 years. All of a sudden a disaster happens and they’re put in a shelter, and what we see in that animal in that day — he’s walking around, he’s trying to figure out where I am, and, within 24 hours, he’s back in his cage with his head stuck down and won’t look at anybody. … That’s called the depressed stage.”

Taylor said he and his staff try to relieve animals that are stressed, anxious or depressed by placing them into an enrichment program.

“We have someone assigned to their pet to socialize it, feed it, walk it, give it a toy to play with,” Taylor said. “We do things like frozen popsicles, pet treats … these are things to try to take their mind off of what they’re going through and get them involved, having fun. They usually come around within 24 to 48 hours.”

When it comes to rescuing animals from depression, Taylor practices one word: socialization.

“It’s all socialization,” he said. “That means you’ve got to spend a lot of time with them — you’ve got to take them out of the cage. … We take them in, and we spend a lot of time with them. We take them outside and play ball.”

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