March 18, 2003
WASHINGTON -- Golden Labrador retrievers Molly, Allie and Gus are assured of prime care in the event of a biological or chemical attack, thanks to an emergency kit assembled by their canine-loving owner, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
Along with taking precautionary steps to protect your family from a terrorist attack, the government says there are things that can be done to help pets survive, too.
Ridge said he assembled an emergency kit for his dogs that includes a three-day supply of water and food.
Feeling helpless, some pet owners have flooded the Humane Society with calls seeking advice over the last several weeks after the federal government upgraded the alert level to orange, the second highest on the scale; it's now back down to yellow, or elevated.
Many of the government's recommendations are common sense: stocking up on pet food and water, making provisions for animal waste, arranging for a neighbor to look after a pet if the owner cannot get home. But in a disaster, people can forget about the obvious things, and they are being urged to take steps now.
"They should do what they do in the event of a natural disaster -- tornado, hurricane, wildfire -- or hazmat (hazardous materials) spill in the neighborhood," said Anne Culver, director of disaster services for the Humane Society.
One of the startling lessons for many pet owners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was the need to arrange for animal care in the owner's absence. Many had to evacuate in New York and pets were left on their own in apartments.
For high-strung pets, veterinarian Peter Farrell in Alexandria has sometimes prescribed sedatives.
But he said that just as he wouldn't tell people to "pop two Valiums and bliss out" in a disaster, he also wouldn't recommend sedatives for all pets. That question, too, should be considered in advance.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (www.fema.gov) and the Humane Society (www.hsus.org) recommend, among other tips, that people stock up on food and water, get medications for animals and have a carrier or leash for each pet in case of an evacuation.
Officials and leading animal welfare groups don't endorse the idea of gas masks for pets. In Israel, where people are worried about being attacked by Iraq, veterinarian Rafi Kishon makes masks from a stretchy fabric, designed for pets of all sizes.
Jacob Casper, coordinator of disaster services at the Maryland Agriculture Department, said he's not sure of the effectiveness of gas masks for pets. A dog regulates its heat mechanism by panting; a gas mask might prevent it from breathing normally, causing its body temperature to rise, he said.
Casper said pets are susceptible to nerve agents just as humans are, but some of the biological agents that might be used by terrorists are less of a worry.
For example, dogs and cats are at low risk from anthrax and have no risk from smallpox.
Pet food for at least three days
Bottled water for at least three days
Water bowl and food dish
Animal ID and photos
Pet carrier and blankets
Leash and toys
Buckets or bins for waste
-- Associated Press