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How to Care for Shelter Pets Affected by Disasters

Animal welfare has often been overlooked during disasters. Disasters are stressful enough to dog owners. How much more to pets? While pet owners are advised not to leave their dogs during emergencies, this is not always possible. They may fail to take their pets to safety as they may get caught up in the disaster and need rescue, too.

Because of this, pets can be lost or abandoned, which can cause severe anxiety from the separation. After being rescued, post-disaster care for these animals is crucial for their recovery. Other pets may still need shelter care despite being accompanied by their displaced owners. Proper animal care includes temporary shelters, food, veterinary services, and behavioral management.

Behavioral Care Pets Need in Temporary Shelters

Getting pets to safety during calamities is not enough. They also need proper care and management to recover from the disaster-induced trauma. But what makes a good temporary shelter for these traumatized pets? Below are crucial factors to consider if you need to commit your dog to one:  

Safe Housing 

Animal shelters may not be designed to handle disasters. In case of emergencies, there is usually a general lack of resources. Rescued dogs are kept at a temporary animal center or a makeshift shelter, such as warehouses or other large enclosures. However, this is the most viable option since transporting pets from the disaster location may hinder possible pet-owner reunions. 

The problem with this setup is that disasters escalate in frequency and severity over time, for instance, earthquake aftershocks. And it might happen while pets are inside the shelters. Aside from being easily accessible, the location of these shelters should be less prone to earthquakes, flash floods, landslides, etc. Ideally, building robust and elevated housing meets the objectives of the PAW Act, assuming there are enough resources at the community level.

Housing Compatible Pets

Shelter pets from the same household can be co-housed together. This way, they can initiate physical contact with each other if they want to. This means there should be a standardized tracking and identification protocol to protect the pets’ identity. Pet owners need to microchip their pets or keep them on a collar with an ID tag as a precaution.

Anxious or aggressive dogs should be placed in a quieter area where pet traffic is minimal to avoid aggression with other dogs. Visual barriers in front of their cages or crates can also be installed. However, these should be set up to allow visual access when needed.

Potty Schedule

Naturally, dogs don’t want to eliminate where they feed, drink, or sleep. This is especially true for potty-trained pets. Dogs relieve themselves away from their feeding or sleeping area. House-trained pets become distraught if they’re unable to eliminate for long periods. Hence, they require a daily walking routine to have opportunities for their toilet needs.

Mental Stimulation (In-Kennel)

Dogs get bored quickly. Pets need enrichment activities to keep them occupied and stimulated, especially those confined in small enclosures for long hours. Kibbles could be offered in food dispensers or treats in puzzle feeders. Chew toys can be helpful as well. Tug toys can be hung on their crates or cages to keep them clean. These toys encourage repetitive chewing, licking, and biting, which can help alleviate stress in dogs. Enrichment prevents boredom and manages their energy, encouraging calm behavior.

Playgroups

The most effective enrichment for social dogs and puppies is through playgroups. However, this should only be done once the pets are medically cleared of any injury or contagious disease. Playgroups are ideal for outdoor settings. Dogs must be on a leash inside the play yard, preferably long enough to allow freedom of movement. This ensures they can’t escape the enclosure. Leashes made of polyester webbing are great, as the material is less likely to get caught on other pets’ limbs. Obstructions can be put inside the play yard, such as overturned chairs, kennels, small tables, and other similar structures. These structures provide a safe place for dogs to rest from action. 

 

Shelter Pets Dealing with Post-Disaster Stress

There are many causes why pets affected by a disaster suffer from distress:

  1. Trauma for enduring the disaster
  2. Being displaced, lost, or abandoned
  3. The experience of being caught by strangers or rescuers (by lassoing or trapping)
  4. Their stay in the temporary shelter center

Being trapped in a box or cage by strangers can be extremely stressful to pets, particularly for undersocialized ones. Dogs in distress can be likened to humans with post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a traumatic event. Those who endured a disaster and have been separated from their families are likely to suffer long-term trauma. Dogs with PTSD generally exhibit fear, aggression, hypervigilance, passive avoidance, and sleep disturbances. Abrupt separation from their primary attachment figures can significantly impact the severity of trauma pets experience. Thus, displaced owners are encouraged to visit their pets at the temporary shelter daily, if possible.

Pet-Owner Reunification

A disaster recovery plan for pets should ultimately reunite shelter pets with their owners. This also helps pet owners recover from the psychological stress associated with separation. Finding new homes for pets with no claimants is equally necessary. An extended stay in shelters causes increased stress and anxiety over time.

Reunion is the ideal post-disaster care for rescued dogs. Not only would it be beneficial to pets, but this also decongests the temporary shelter to cater to other animals.

Bless

Bless works at PetsTEK as a content writer, a Florida-based company specializing in e-collars for dogs. As a dog enthusiast, she is constantly on the lookout for dog rearing tips and training techniques to build a long-lasting bond with her pet.

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