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Safe Living in Sonoma

Show a Little Love: Your Animal Emergency Buddy System
Safe Living in Sonoma
Captain Gary Johnson and Engineer Rodd Kneeland of Sonoma Valley Fire District and Julie Atwood.Source HALTER Project

By Julie Atwood, The HALTER Project

When emergencies or disasters happen, you need a friend — or two, or three. Having a “buddy system” to help with your animals can reduce stress and save lives.

Developing your own personal network of helpers, temporary evacuation or foster homes, and transportation resources is a vital part of preparedness planning. Start by making a list of reliable neighbors, friends, and others who can help you evacuate your pets, equines, or backyard livestock.

Make a column for people who can provide a safe, secure temporary home, and a column for those who can help with transportation. You need at least three options for each. A cardinal rule of safety prep is to always have more than one plan for everything. When it comes to your buddy system, this means having multiple people you can call on. You need backups for your backups.

These important, personal “human resources” should be able to evacuate your animals if you’re at work or on vacation or cannot get home in time. They can also be the buddies who check on, and care for, your animals if you’re sick, injured, or hospitalized.

People with mobility limitations may need help walking, getting into a car, lifting supplies, or managing pet crates. Do you need a driver? Your safety network should be strong, and cover all essential activities.

Having that long-deferred knee surgery? The smallest injury can seriously impact your ability to move yourself and your animals quickly or get to supplies. That’s when your buddy system truly is your lifesafety system.

A strong animal buddy network includes people your animals are familiar with. Take time to “train” with your animal care buddies. Spend time together, with your animals, feeding, walking, loading, and playing in frequent practice sessions.

COVID-19 or other infection concerns complicate things. Make sure you have arrangements with pet care helpers who can come to your home comfortably and safely for both of you.

COVID-19 concerns also have made it challenging to connect and stay connected. Our pets have been isolated, too. This adds to the importance of introducing animals and helpers before a crisis occurs. The pandemic may have caused some of your helpers to limit contact with you and others. Take time to chat with all your current emergency contacts. Update information. It’s always good to expand your resources.

Reach out to dog-walking or riding groups, your homeowners association, folks in your faith community. Make new friends who have a common interest in the type of animals you share your life with. Keep in mind that every situation we’ve covered can also apply to everyday activities, such as going to the vet, having visitors, or taking a walk.

Emergencies impacting our animals don’t always involve sudden injury or severe weather. Every day, family pets are subjected to trauma and abuse in homes where domestic violence is occurring. All too often, concerns about leaving pets behind prevents adults and kids from escaping a violent environment. A support network is vital to helping families — and their pets — get to safety.

If you know someone with pets who is trying to leave a dangerous domestic situation, be a buddy and tell them about programs that can provide safe pet fostering, shelter, or veterinary care.

Volunteers are a big part of a community animal buddy network. Become a volunteer with a program that provides home foster care and other support for pets, equines, and other animals displaced by emergencies or disasters. Many organizations and agencies have pathways that connect volunteers with people who can use helpers.

It all sounds so basic, and in many ways, it is. Building a better, stronger animal emergency buddy network takes some time, and above all, connectedness. But it means that you’ve got a friend — and your animals do, too — who will stand by you when you need it most.

For more information and preparedness resources, visit HALTERproject. org.

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