he past 25 years have seen a tremendous growth in Florida's animal population, especially in South Florida where the tropical climate has encouraged a wide variety of exotic pets and livestock. Coincidentally, during much of this time there also was a general absence of natural disasters, especially hurricanes. The result was widespread complacency among a large and growing number of animal owners, not to mention local governments.
That all changed in 1992 with Hurricane Andrew. Since then, the state of Florida has required that county governments form an extra emergency support function within their emergency management section to deal specifically with animal disasters.
Broward and Palm Beach counties have been two of the leaders in this effort. They have animal rescue teams on hand, and have worked with animal experts to spread the word among animal owners about how to prepare for a hurricane, and what to do if one strikes.
The following information deals mostly with horses, but specialized tips are available for dogs, cats, birds, farm animals and exotics as well. Simply contact your county animal disaster team, which is part of your county's emergency management agency. You can also request information on how these animal rescue teams operate, and what would be expected of you, the owner, in the event of a hurricane.
VaccinationsThe very first thing to do and in many ways the most important is make sure your horse is up-to-date with a tetanus booster and has had a vaccination for encephalitis, commonly known as sleeping sickness. This disease is carried by mosquitoes and the height of infection is July and August, just when storm, hurricane and flood season is at its height.
This disease can kill both humans and horses, and should not be taken lightly. Horses should be vaccinated at least every six months, but most large stables do this every four months. See your personal veterinarian for details.
Neighborhood Disaster CommitteesMost horse owners live in horse communities. Contact your neighbors long before hurricane season, and organize your own neighborhood disaster committee. Schedule meetings at which horse owners discuss who has what in the way of equipment, concrete barns, flood areas, etc., and explore ways in which neighbors can help neighbors to accomplish a great deal. Contact your county animal disaster team and they will be glad to help you form such a committee.
Animal IdentificationAfter Hurricane Andrew, 80 % of the horses found carried no identification. This made the job of reuniting animals and owners much more difficult. Veterans of that storm compiled a list of suggestions to help ensure that your animal can be identified in the confusion that follows a hurricane. The following list includes a variety of alternatives from which you can choose:
- Take a picture of your horse with a family member in the photo as well. Then staple a copy of your current Coggins test to the picture with any other information such as tattoos, microchip ID, special scars and any other permanent identification, your local vet's name and number and any medications your horse may need. Place all these items in a zip-lock bag, and keep them in a safe place where you can get to them after a hurricane.
- Purchase fetlock ID bands and place them on both front feet before a hurricane hits.
- Put a leather halter on your horse with a luggage tag attached showing the horse's address, phone number and owner's name and any medication information. Write any special needs on an index card; place this inside a small zip-lock bag, and wrap it around the side of the halter with tape.
- Take a second luggage tag with the same information and braid it into the horse's tail hair. Caution: Do NOT tie the tag around the tail; this would cut off circulation.
- Neck ID bands with the same information can also be used. Check with your local tack store.
- Using small animal clippers, body clip the same phone number your horse's neck.
- A permanent method of identification is Freeze Branding. For further information on this option, check out: www.horseweb.com/kka
- Do not put a copy of the horse's Coggins test on the horse. Animal Rescue may not be the ones to find your horse. A coggins test is a passport out of state and, as we learned from Andrew, not everyone is honest.
One of the goals of Animal Rescue is to find loose horses and get them reunited with the owners as soon as possible. These suggestions will help tremendously. Remember, you cannot have too much identification with your horse.
EvacuationIf you plan to evacuate in the event of a storm, have a destination and routes thought out well in advance. January, February and March would be good months to do this. Plan to leave 48 hours before the arrival of the storm. The worst thing that can happen to you is to get stuck in traffic with a trailer full of horses and a hurricane approaching. Hurricane Andrew tossed loaded tractor trailers around like they were match sticks.
By the way, if you choose to get out of the area altogether, take all your animals. Don't take your horse but leave dogs, cats and birds at home alone.
Hurricane Shelter Stabling
Emergency stabling is available on a limited basis. For a listing of stables, please call:
Sunshine State Horse Council - Searchable stable directorySumter Equestrian Center, Bushnell, FL - emergency stabling and camping - 352-303-4325 LEAVE A MESSAGE.Marion County Animal Care and Control (352) 671-8900Broward County Animal Care and Control (954) 359-1313Palm Beach County Are and Control (561) 233-1201
The list of stables may change at any time due to the projected path and size of the approaching storm. Call those stables and find out about availability and any appropriate fees. Do not wait until the last minute to seek emergency stabling!
Preparing for a HurricaneRegardless of whether you stay or evacuate, start early to clean up your property and remove all debris that may be tossed around by hurricane winds. If you plan to weather the storm at home, here are some guidelines:
- The choice of keeping your horse in a barn or an open field is entirely up to you. Use common sense, taking into consideration barn structure, trees, power lines, and the condition of surrounding properties.
- Remove all items from the barn aisles and walls, and store them in a safe place.
- Have two weeks supply of hay (wrapped in plastic or waterproof tarp) and feed (stored in plastic water-tight containers). Place these supplies in the highest and driest area possible.
- Take two plywood boards and spray paint on one side of each board, "HAVE ANIMALS, NEED HELP." On the other side of each board paint, "HAVE ANIMALS, AM OK FOR NOW." Put both plywood boards with your feed supply.
- Fill clean plastic garbage cans with water, secure the tops, and place them in the barn.
- Prepare an emergency animal care kit (waterproof) with all the items you normally use: medications, salves, ointments, vetwraps, bandages, tape, etc. Place the kit in a safe place where you can get to it after a storm.
- Have an emergency barn kit containing a chain saw and fuel, hammers, a saw, nails, screws and fencing materials. Place this kit in a secure area before the storm hits.
- Have an ample supply of flashlights and batteries, and at least one battery-operated radio.
- Using camper tie-downs, secure all vehicles, trailers and maintenance equipment.
- Notify neighbors where you will be during the storm.
- Before leaving the barn, attach identification to all horses.
- Turn off circuit breakers to the barn before leaving. A power surge could cause sparks and fire.
- Do not stay in the barn with your horse during the storm.
- Place a supply of water and hay with each horse.
Remember, trees could be down blocking roads, and you may not be able to return to the barn immediately following the storm. Leave two buckets of water in your horse's stall.
After the StormAfter the storm has passed, roads will probably be blocked or flooded. Working in pairs, try to locate your nearest neighbor. Here are some other post-disaster pointers:
- Be very careful when you venture outside. Live electric wires could be all around you.
- See to your animal's needs, keeping them as calm as possible.
- Carefully try to clean debris from the barn, and clear the driveway out to the road.
- Place one of the plywood signs you made earlier at the edge of your driveway, at the roadside, with the appropriate writing facing the road. Place the other sign in a clear area with the appropriate side facing upwards. Aircraft will be flying overhead, and this will help them determine the severity of the effects of the storm. If you do not have a severely injured animal, put the OK sign up. In either case, help will get to you as soon as possible.
- Watch for fire ants. Ants will look for the driest place to nest and will move from wet to high ground when their nests flood. Check your barn/stall walls and feed/hay areas. Ants will also seek refuge from wet ground on fence rails and tree branches, so take care when clearing debris after a storm.
- Snakes will also seek high ground. Do not put your hands or feet in recesses you cannot see. Snakes will also hide between hay bales and banked shavings.