We work every day to keep our pets safe. Avoiding certain flowers in the house for cats, stopping dogs scavenging bad food stuff on a walk. Carrying out preventative care such as flea and worming treatments.
That’s all great but what do you do in an emergency? The awful fire at Grenfell Tower in West London brings this to mind for me. As a city dweller with an indoor cat and a small dog what would I do if I needed to get out of my flat in a hurry and in safety for me, my pets and others? Although we all consider fire safety perhaps it’s time to stop and make a plan for what you would do if the worst happened.
As a vet nurse I have my fire training from work that says it’s very unsafe just to open the door and let the pets flee. Its stressful and unsafe for them and in the limited visibility of a fire could be a trip hazard to people. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, but letting your pets loose and hoping for the best isn’t the answer. Pets will be become as disorientated and stressed as we will in a fire and may not run to safety as you would wish. They are also likely to be a hazard to others escaping as with smoke there can be low visibility and dogs and cats can become trip hazards for people.
This raises what you might be able to do. There is the option to leave pets behind. I know I couldn’t do this, and it would slow my escape as each step would be a physical and emotional wrench. I might even get out of my flat, decide the fire doesn’t look so bad and go back to get them – this is not a good idea. You need to get out and stay out. If you are planning to take them with you then get prepared and make your decision and stick to it.
Moving your pets safely
How do you do this? With pets that don’t want to go in their carrier at the best of times how will you do this in a time of stress? Do you even have the carrier to hand and how easy is it to move quickly with a bulky cat basket hitting your knees?
Many years ago I pondered this. We had two cats and lived on the second floor. I was also nearly finished my vet nurse training and had notes and caselogs in abundance. This was before electronic backups so it was a paper copy, and for one night I had all the paperwork at home – normally it was safely spread across work, college and home. This focused my mind and I told my boyfriend that if there was a fire he had to get both cats as I would be getting my paperwork. How was he to handle two cats, including one who didn’t like him that much?
We found out about advice for New York pet owners – use a pillow case! You can put your cat or small dog in the pillow case and put a loose knot in the top. Your pet is safe, and it’s easier to carry than a basket, and there’s always a pillow case close at hand. It means you can carry your pet with one hand, leaving the other free for handrails, ladders, or helping others. You can also pass the pet to people outside the building and free your hands up to escape.
It was such a great idea we put two spare pillow cases under our beds. One slightly larger as The Flump was a bit of a hippo, but that’s another story.
Evacuation – be prepared
Prepping for evacuating your pet for disasters is a whole other blog – food supplies, meds, you need a stock for you and your pet – for everyday tragedies like home fires just plan to get out and stay out.
There have been advances from the pillow case advice all those years ago. There are now pet evacuation sacks that provide a stronger and slightly larger ‘pillow case’ effect. If you need to evacuate quickly then you and your pet can do so safely.
If you can prep just a little have a few days food, a small water bottle and your pets vaccines and identification and insurance details. Hopefully your pet can stay with you, but if they need to go to a kennel or cattery and your vets isn’t open then having all their details will make life easier for you at that moment.
It’s also worth considering having a spare harness/collar and lead ready, even for cats. Once out of the house it may be safe to have them out of the pillow case and they still need to be under control.
My first advice on pets in an emergency was from New York and there is still great advice there. If you want to prepare a little further there is a pet emergency plan to download and fill in.
A purpose made pet evacuation sack or a pillowcase is not going to be the answer to all the problems in a quick escaepe so please read this from London Fire Brigade and watch the short video. The advice is relevant for any quick escape. While the Grenfell Tower tragedy has highlighted the urgency for fire related issues in recent times close to me there have been three floods from water mains, an evacuation from an unexploded WWII bomb and a gas leak. All are reasons for needing quick, safe escapes from home.
A few minutes planning now could save more than one life if the time comes.