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Safe Living in Sonoma Valley

Safe Living in Sonoma Valley

How to help animals in a crisis? FAQs and answers

By Julie Atwood

Spring is almost here. March is a great time to take some deep breaths and get ready for fun and travel with our animals, plan for inevitable emergencies, and yes — prepare for disasters. We are often asked questions about how to help animals in emergency situations. It’s terrifying to think about, but readiness really is the best stress-reducer. It’s important to first understand the differences between “emergencies” and “disasters,” and how to get help.

An emergency is small, local, and happens to just one or a few people and animals. Help usually arrives quickly from local emergency services, your veterinarian, or possibly, friends or bystanders. While it might feel like eons when it’s happening, the emergency is over in a relatively short time.

Things work differently during a disaster. Help is provided through a structured system, utilizing agencies and their Animal Disaster Response partners, i.e., animal sheltering organizations, volunteer groups, veterinarians, agricultural resources, and others.

Everyone works under the same Incident Command with other emergency services. Trained teams are dispatched through channels dedicated to animal welfare, to set up and staff emergency shelters, provide safe evacuation assistance, and care for animals “sheltering in place.” In the first chaotic hours of a fire, earthquake, or other major event, responders may be unable to get to you and/or your animals. Priority is given to human safety and to animals in locations that are accessible and safe for responders and won’t jeopardize the overall operation. To prepare for animal safety during disasters, you need a personal network of resources to help with transportation, shelter, and care before it’s too late. Prep should include hardening your home and ensuring access for animal responders.

When animals are involved, preparing for emergencies and planning for disasters require different strategies. Will you know what to do?

Here are some frequently asked questions and their answers: Q: What’s the most important thing to do in an animal emergency or disaster?

A: Breathe! Stop, focus, and stay calm. Your animals, and everyone else, will take important cues from your behavior.

Q: How do I get help for a horse in a trail riding accident in one of our local parks?

A: Call 911. Report human injuries and your location, then ask for large animal rescue. Keep a horse buddy nearby if possible. Stay calm and keep bystanders to a minimum.

Q: My horse spooked and ran away while we were riding—who should I call?

A: Call 911. If there’s a stable or ranch nearby, alert the owner/manager, since horses will often find their way to other equines.

Q: What should I do if my horse is down (in a stall, fence, pen, etc.) and can’t get up?

A: First, call your vet. Next, call 911 and report a “down horse (or livestock) emergency.” Be prepared to give calm, clear, precise info to the dispatcher about location, cross streets, access info, and the circumstances. Stay calm, keep an equine buddy nearby if possible, keep the animal warm and the scene quiet.

Q: What do I do if I have a trailer accident?

A: Turn off your engine and turn on the emergency lights. Call 911 immediately. Give accurate info about location, number of animals, and type of trailer (living quarters? horse or stock trailer?). Call your veterinarian. Unlock doors and roll down windows. Do not get out unless you can do it safely. Use cones, flashlights, reflectors, and emergency lights to alert oncoming traffic. Do not open trailer doors or windows until responders have a plan.

Q: My horse fell into a swimming pool/well/septic tank. What do I do?

A: Call 911, state that you have a “large animal emergency,” explain the situation and give your location. Next, call your vet. Keep the animal calm. If the animal is stuck in mud, and you can do it safely, try loosening mud around the animal’s legs to allow it to extricate itself. Do not get into the mud or a tight space with the animal. Do not hold its head tightly. Offer feed and water. Keep bystanders away and keep an animal buddy nearby if possible. Q: When should I evacuate my equines/ livestock?

A: Prepare to evacuate large animals during a Red Flag or other severe weather warning or watch. Evacuate as quickly as possible if an evacuation warning is issued. Do not wait for an evacuation order.

Q: How do I get help to evacuate my animals?

A: Under an evacuation order, follow instructions provided by SoCo Emergency alerts. See the resource box for helpline numbers to keep on hand.

Q: Where can I find emergency animal shelter info?

A: Emergency shelter info will be provided in alerts, by local CARTs, and by SoCo Animal Services.

Q: If I can’t evacuate my animals, who can help them?

A: Request help by calling the Animal Helpline numbers.

Q: I don’t have a trailer. Who can help me evacuate?

A: Before evacuation orders are issued, any resource with safe, reliable vehicles can help you. Once you’re under an evacuation order, only authorized responders can access your animals.

Q: If I can’t evacuate my equines or livestock, what should I do?

A: Prep their safe area away from the barn, feed storage, hazard trees or power lines. Close all barn Safe – from page 11

and stall doors. Unlock gates but do not leave open for animals to run onto roads. Leave as much water as possible; remove flammable objects from the area; remove halters, blankets, masks, wraps; leave halters and lead ropes nearby; wet down the area, if possible; have clear, fireproof signage at the entrance to the property; and call the Animal Helpline and request welfare checks as soon as possible.

Q: Is Facebook a good way to get help for my animals during a disaster?

A: Do not post requests for help on social media. Use only safe, authorized resources.

Q: If a fire is approaching, should I turn my equines and farm animals loose?

A: Turn them out of enclosed spaces and allow them access to safe, secure open areas. Do not let them loose where they can get onto roads. Report loose equines or livestock to the Animal Helpline. This saves animal and firefighter lives!

Q: What’s the best way to reconnect with my animals after a disaster?

A: Make sure they’re microchipped and have additional identification. Report them to SCAS, where they can be tracked in a multi-agency database.

Q: I raise livestock. Can I get into my property to care for my animals and make fence repairs?

A: If you’re a commercial producer, contact your County Department of Agriculture to apply for an Ag Access document. If you’re a hobby farmer, contact the Animal Hotline to request a possible escort or welfare check.

Q: How do I get animal info during a disaster?

A: In alerts issued by SoCo Alert, the sheriff, local fire agencies, and CalFire via phone, text, email, and social media channels.

Q: How can I help if I’m not a trained volunteer?

A: Be a helper in your neighborhood. Set up a buddy system, start a phone tree or an animal safety network. Host an animal preparedness workshop, virtually or in person.

For tools, guides, and help planning a workshop, visit