Pets and Natural Disasters

Evacuation route sign



Cali and I recently moved to Missoula, Montana. We enjoyed our first five or six weeks there with endless clear blue skies, long sunny days, and cool nights. Then fire season arrived.

Montana is having the worst fire season in history, and a huge fire is burning not far from Missoula. Friends and family were among the 1,000 families that had to evacuate … and thousands of pets and livestock evacuated as well.

Then, just as those families were slowly being allowed back home, a natural disaster of an entirely different type hit far south of us: Harvey. Tens of thousands of people and pets evacuated … to where?

During the weeks of the most intensive fire activity, two local organizations helped with Montana pet and livestock evacuations. The county animal control office commandeered barn and stall space at the fairgrounds for horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens. The shelter also accepted some chickens, other small animals, and of course, dogs and cats. The regional SPCA took in pets as well. But both organizations also maintained lists of local families willing to foster animals. This could mean taking in a dog or two — or offering pasture space for horses. A local Facebook page set up by a community member played matchmaker as well, connecting people who needed horse trailering with people who had trailers to lend, for example, as well as matching up need and supply for pastures, places to set up RVs, etc. Several area businesses offered kennel or barn space. I loved the way people in the area stepped right up, offering whatever they could.

From news reports, it looks like shelters across Texas also are pitching in to help care for evacuated pets, but they will need more aid than the local community is able to offer.

How can we help?

I dropped off two carloads of dog and cat food and kitty litter to the Missoula Animal Control. Both local organizations had “wish lists” of needed supplies. The local ACE store offered to keep a sort of “gift registry” — a list of needed supplies, since so many customers were asking  staff what the organizations needed.

The fire evacuations were short term; fortunately most people got to go home to intact houses (two families did lose their homes and others lost outbuildings like barns). But the aftermath of Harvey is several orders of magnitude larger. Anyone who is close enough and has space might offer to foster pets or transport pets to shelters or foster homes. I keep hearing that the organizations need donations of money more than of goods, and that deliveries of goods are not necessarily getting through yet. The need will last months or even years, so anyone who can afford to might consider regular donations for the next several months.

But as important as helping with the current need is planning ahead. Does your local shelter have a disaster plan? If not, maybe you can help them create one. Do you have the ability to foster evacuated pets? Maybe you can help a local organization start a list of local people who can help out in emergencies. What if you are affected by the next extreme weather disaster: Do you have an evacuation plan for yourself and your pets? Where would you go? Do you have crates to transport cats and smaller pets?

After Katrina, many organizations put together plans and advice for people with pets, and Harvey is a reminder to update our plans. Here are some resources that can help you get started:’s planning tips

From CDC: Disaster Preparedness for Your Pet

From HSUS: Make a Disaster Plan for Your Pets