A river runs through it: What really happens during a mandatory dog-friendly evacuation

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I never thought I’d have to evacuate my residence in an emergency situation. Sure, I counseled others via the written word on how to do it and even had an “emergency plan” of my own in place. I just never thought I’d need to implement those best laid plans. Did you ever wonder what happens in a mandatory dog-friendly evacuation? We did, too. Then it happened.

“Won’t happen to me” syndrome and all that cliché jazz.

Until Thursday, September 8, 2011. As the Susquehanna River threatened to overflow her banks and surpass the levee system designed to keep the flood waters back, a sea of thoughts, unexpected emotions, and several doses of panic ran through my mind.

Would my previously published prose penetrate my mind and allow me to calmly and methodically evacuate, dog in tow? Indeed, but as if I consumed several cases of Jolt Cola to help me get there.

Threat of Evacuation: My ever-faithful at-my-heels Cocker Spaniel followed me to and fro as I rummaged from closet to closet and room to room, determining what I wanted to take and could risk leaving. What exactly would fit in my car that I truly could not replace? My mood dictated his reaction. Dogs sense how we feel. His low-lying ears and tucked tail forced me to wise up and do as I’ve told others: DON’T PANIC. So what if The Weather Channel has Jim Cantore parked at the foot of the bridge threatening to overflow. Breathe, Carol, breathe. Your dog can do it; so can you.

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What I Took: All those baggies full of items I wrote about to have ready to go for Fido? Indeed they were in place and came through with flying colors. What I packed for my dog that I told you to pack for your dog:  (here come the educational bullet points)

  • Food (and now that we have switched to dehydrated The Honest Kitchen food, much easier!)
  • Water : Officials cautioned a week’s supply. We evacuated to a dog-friendly home located two hours away, so not an issue.
  • Food and water bowls: Indeed. Bamboo collapsible bowls in the emergency bag rocked like a charm.
  • Meds and vaccine records. I then stored these in plastic baggies. All of my dog’s items are centrally located in one closet of the house with the exception of food and vet records.
  • Photographs and ID: For safety, security, comfort but also in case Fido goes missing. Please please please do not leave the dog behind. If you couldn’t escape flood waters, neither will Fido.
  • A safe place of retreat that ALLOWS dogs: Having made several calls the night before the mandatory evacuation, Fido-friendly hotels within 2-1/2 hours were booked. Be sure to have somewhere to go for backup, a place to crash temporarily, and one that allows dogs. I’d have slept in my car of a vacant parking lot if I had to; but I didn’t. Dog-welcoming friends made our emergency escape feel more like a needed retreat. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around “this is really happening to me/us.” Happily, the majority of local emergency makeshift shelters allowed pets – as long as you had a kennel and vaccine records. If you titer your dog, keep copies of those as well.  Write phone numbers down of these locations; more than one, in fact.
  • Pet first aid kit, extra leash, toys , treats, dog bed/kennel/comforts of home.

Traveling: If your dog doesn’t like car travel, you can try to change this. Assess road readiness with a five-minute trip around the block. Slowly increase the amount of time Fido spends in the car, making the destination worthwhile (i.e., a favorite park). Praise “getting there” with a treat upon arrival. Never take a travel-fearful dog on a road trip. Desensitizing and gradually acclimating Fido takes time and patience. A vet or animal behaviorist can help. Dexter digs travel. So traveling in a car en route to the unknown was second nature for my boy.

During the Flood (of Emotions): As water threatened to ravage my town and residence, being a few hours from home meant tuning in to live streams online and Cantore Stories. As Jim rode through the streets on a boat, an envelope of worry consumed me. What I took to keep me calm? D-O-G.

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Coping: As the hours ticked, our friends diverted our worry and turned it to laughter. I even watched Bill Paxton tell me just exactly what sank the Titanic in a epic documentary. Truly, this had to indicate I lost my final marble. Doing so with friends and a few dogs by one’s side: One of those priceless moments to look back upon in amazement.  I wish for anyone going through an evacuation to have friends who open their hearts, homes and emotions with such a wide net.

My town literally came within inches of its own well-being. Looking back on the past 30 days, it seems I followed suit. An earthquake, hurricane evacuation, and threat of flood along with some other life mishaps have shaken me a bit. Survived? Yes. Battered? A bit. Bewildered? For sure.

In the end, it is a lesson learned from a few wigglebutts that brought me a sense of resilience. Following in the pawprints of a few happy-go-lucky cockers, I learned that if you can’t take it with you, it doesn’t matter.  Those monetary things that make the house look pretty are a lot of fun but ultimately, it was the photo albums (yes, real paper, not digital), my previous dog’s cremains, and some important papers I lugged with 14 squeaky balls and a vat of food.

What I Confirmed: My heart beats dog and I’m a hell of a lot stronger than I thought.

Comments

  1. What a lovely tale (tail?) of recognizing what’s really important in a time when it would be so much easier to see the less than bright side of things! But dogs, among their many other gifts, give us perspective, and I’m glad you had yours to help you through this! Lots of good advice here, and I will be plastic bagging my pets’ medical records going forward. Though with two dogs, two cats and more tennis balls than the average Wimbledon champion, I probably should think seriously about trading in my little convertible for an SUV more suitable for multi-pet travel.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful and informative story, and I’m glad you all came through it okay!

  2. Thanks so much. It really reinforces what is important, tangible and how one’s nerves react in these horrid situations. I need to let my dog be my guide.

  3. Love the article. You truly experienced in a month what most of us don’t experience in a lifetime. You are obviously a lot stronger than you think! Well done and bravo for your perseverance in facing adversity, both you and your canine.

  4. Good article, Carol. 🙂 I’ve always thought you were that strong woman and see? You definitely are. Hugs to everyone including that hairy beast of yours…:) x 1000

  5. I love that! “What you can’t take with you really doesn’t matter” – and keep those family photo albums in the downstairs closet ready for a quick exit =) It definitely is a different experience when evacuation happens to you – different than writing or reading about it. You have to keep your head on straight, and you did…however nerve- wracking this was.

    Thanks for writing this and helping us learn from your experience!

  6. In Florida we have a hurricane box, which is a large Rubbermaid box. Inside we keep all our important papers, including dog shot records, mortgage papers, numbers of insurance policies and bank records.

    As for a pet-friendly hotel, after the first evacuation I had to do, and like you, found all the hotels already booked, I started to make refundable reservations WAY in advance and would call to move the dates, etc. In the hurricane zones, the hotels become more flexible about no fees to change your date as the hurricane gets closer. Some hotels, like the Biltmore in Coral Gables, Fla., have a program you can pay into to guarantee you have a pet-friendly room available whenever a hurricane threatens. I, however, can not afford whatever it was they were charging yearly for that service. If a cheaper place would do it, I might be interested.

    Suzy

  7. This is such a helpful post. I’m still amazed that you went through an actual evacuation with a pet – two evacuations if I’m not mistaken! Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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