September 1985. Predictions were dire. Gloria, a category four hurricane, had just slammed Cape Hatteras and was headed our way. My first Vineyard hurricane, and we animal professionals were concerned about how to prepare. In those days there were only two veterinary practices on the Island. I worked at the one in Edgartown, where the MSPCA still ran the shelter in back, and the shelter manager lived in the little house next door where we routinely played poker on Friday nights. But this day was no game. A storm was coming, and they said it was a big one.
Both I and one of the other veterinarians lived up Lambert’s Cove way where we knew high winds might lead to downed trees blocking our egress, so we decided to be available for veterinary emergencies by weathering the storm closer to work. We gathered with others at the shelter manager’s house. Kind of an Animal Emergency Central.
Barbara Prada, the Edgartown Animal Control Officer (then and now), was there, as well as members of the shelter and vet clinic staffs. I remember there were homemade whoopie pies for snacking. (Now that’s disaster preparedness.) No cell phones back then, but some people were equipped with two-way radios and the police scanner was on. So we sat. And we waited.
Sandy may have passed, but there’s always another hurricane season, another blizzard, maybe even someday an earthquake or tsunami. I know, I’m sounding like the anxious Jewish mother that I am, but who can forget things like the heartbreaking photos of abandoned pets post-Katrina?
So listen to Mother and let’s just review the extra steps those of us with pets might take while preparing for the end of the world as we know it.
We begin with the basics — food and water. Factor in drinking water for the pets while procuring your own. While grabbing the last loaves of bread at Cronig’s, pick up a good supply of pet food. If your dog, Irene, or cat, Bob, eats a prescription diet for a chronic condition such as kidney disease or food allergies, contact your veterinarian promptly and stock up. Any sudden change in diet has the potential to upset an animal’s stomach and the last thing you need when the power is out and you have no running water, is to be faced with a vomiting cat or dog with diarrhea.
Next, think about any medications Irene and Bob need. Is the cat hyperthyroid, taking methimazole daily? Or diabetic and getting insulin injections? Does the dog have Addison’s disease, needing monthly DOCP injections and daily prednisone? Do you have enough medication for several weeks? Remember Irene’s anti-anxiety pills for her thunderstorm phobia.
Try to have enough essential medications to cover for disruptions in transportation services. Your veterinarians (and local pharmacies) depend on the Steamship, UPS, and FedEx for supplies. Just because you can get to us right after the storm, doesn’t mean we can get what you need. It can take weeks for things to return to normal
Bring animals inside early. Bob and Irene can sense barometric pressure well before the actual storm arrives, and their instincts tell them to run and hide. They don’t need to watch The Weather Channel for impending weather to freak them out.
While buying extra batteries at Reliable, grab a few bags of kitty litter, too. If you don’t usually have an indoor litter box, get one. Even if Bob has never used indoor plumbing before, he’ll figure it out. Don’t think you can just let him out for a minute in the midst of torrential rains or gale force winds to go potty, then expect him to come right back.
Same goes for snow. I have seen cats die of hypothermia even after the blizzard has ended from getting into deep drifts or not being able to find their way home. I’ve seen dogs panic, get lost in the woods, trapped in icy puddles, drowned in ponds. Keep pets inside. Don’t forget to close Irene’s dog door, and secure that window where Bob likes to push out the screen and go out via the roof.
If the power goes out… Okay, let’s get real — it’s not if, it’s when. When the power goes out, a word of caution about candles. Please stick to flashlights or battery-powered lanterns. Pets and candles are a recipe for house fires. Especially cats who seem to be inordinately attracted to those flickering flames.
In addition to flashlights, every pet owner should have one sturdy pet carrier for each animal. Cardboard carriers are not adequate. You need a solid carrier large enough for Bob to comfortably lie down and stand up. Why? Because if you suddenly need to evacuate, you want a secure way of taking pets along and keeping them safely confined should you all end up living at the Chilmark Community Center or school gymnasium. For larger dogs, a collapsible crate is a great thing to have, but at very least, have a well-fitting collar and decent leash and know where they are.
Hurricane Gloria? We waited hour after hour for her to hit, but not much happened. Lots of wind but barely a drizzle. Eventually we trickled home, one by one, still edgy from our adrenalin-pumped preparations but relieved that Island animals were okay. That evening, however, the ACO reported a couple had taken their dogs for a walk to survey the storm’s aftermath. Without a leash. There was a downed power line. A puddle. Two dogs electrocuted.
The danger doesn’t disappear just because the wind has died down. From the photos I have seen so far, the damage from Sandy on the Vineyard looks serious but not as bad as it could have been. We can never know as each new episode of severe weather approaches whether it will be a near miss or a major disaster. Be prepared. Stay safe. Keep the pets safe. Call your mother.