Natural disasters are a nightmare and they happen across the United States. There were 45 major disaster declarations (snowstorms, floods, wildfires, etc.) across the U.S. in 2014, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). We spoke with Katie Borremans, Associate Director of Communications at Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado Springs, to discuss how these events affect our communities and pets, as well as which donations animal shelters are most in need of in order to best prepare for an impending natural disaster.
“We need a lot – a lot! – of crates when sheltering so many animals during a disaster,” says Borremans. “The big wire crates are the most helpful. They seem to work better for us than those airline carrier type crates.”
“As you can imagine, it’s hard to keep up on laundry when you’re caring for that many animals,” says Borremans. That is why she recommends donating as many blankets and towels as you can spare to animal shelters. Regular plain, old blankets and towels are fine and are actually better than comforters. According to Borremans, comforters can get shredded easily and the animals, especially the dogs, will eat the stuffing.
Shelters go through a lot of pet food every day; it becomes even more urgent when the number of animals under their care explodes during natural disasters. If possible, call the animal shelter before bringing your pet food donations. While it’s unlikely they will refuse a generous donation, some shelters have preferences because their animals have grown accustomed to a certain food type or brand.
Did you know some pet food manufacturers do their part too and coordinate with animal shelters during natural disasters to lend a helping hand? “[The Humane Society of Pikes Peak Region] had a lot of help from Hill’s Science Diet during our last two fires,” says Borremans. “They were able to provide a lot of dog and cat food for us, for which we were very thankful.”
“Animals can sense what’s going on [during natural disasters],” says Borreman, “and it’s just as scary for them as their human counterparts.” Fortunately, the tension can often be alleviated with some toys, which help the pets keep occupied when things are stressful. Again, it’s probably best to call the animal shelter before bringing in donations. Often what’s requested are things that entertain and enrich the animals, such as chew toys for dogs and puzzle toys for cats.
The cost of coordinating animal rescues and managing shelter operations is high under ideal conditions; it can be astronomical during natural disasters. “What’s great about folks donating money,” says Borreman, “is that we can get what we need immediately when we have the funds for it.” And remember, ever little bit counts.
By volunteering your time, you can be assured to make a direct impact in the lives of the people and animals in your local shelter and community. However, Borremans stresses that if you are serious about helping, then the time to volunteer is now. “What we need are volunteers that are trained and ready to go before the disaster happens,” she said. “When you’re handling animals there are risks involved, and so our [volunteers] go through some pretty extensive training – animal behavior training – before they are allowed to help with the animals.” Call your local animal shelter to see which special programs or classes to take so you can volunteer on the front lines whenever disasters strike.