The past weeks have given Australians a glimpse, yet again, into hell with fires of absolutely horrifying ferocity and speed devouring countless thousands of hectares across five states.
Now more than ever, an effective bushfire survival plan is vital, a plan which includes the entire family especially the pets.
Prepare a go bag - this should contain all the things you might need to care for your companion animal in the event of an extended evacuation. Include:
- Food (enough for a week)
- Vet and vaccination records and vet contacts
- Lead, collar with ID tag, a harness and possibly a muzzle for dogs
- Poo bags and/or cat litter and tray
- Any medications your pet may need
- Photos of your pets
Ensure animals are microchipped and registered and those details are up to date.
The transport container will vary depending on the species. Cats should go in a secure and robust carrier while pocket pets can be secured in cages or boxes with air holes. Fish can go into a wide-necked jar with a secure lid; fill the jar two-thirds with water and use a straw to blow air into the water regularly. Reptiles can be transported in a sack, pillowcase or boxes with holes. Birds are particularly sensitive to smoke, so cover their cage with a wet cloth to help stave this off for as long as possible.
In the case of larger animals like horses, you will need to have a serviceable, registered float ready to go as well as a halter and lead, rug, fly veil and hay or chaff.
Identify a safe haven - it's too late when you're running out the door to try and work out where is best for you to go. Identify the appropriate evacuation centre for pets and larger animals as they may not be in the same place, well in advance. Alternatively, make arrangements with a friend or relative to house your animals with them for the duration of the crisis. Know exactly how to get there in case you have to navigate through thick smoke and ash.
Practise Your Plan - Practise getting yourself and your animals to your safe shelter. Get the animals used to the car and the process so when it comes time, you will switch to auto pilot and get the job done.
Preparing to Evacuate
Know where your pets are - if the call comes to leave, you won't have time to search the garden for the cat or call the dog. If there is even the slightest risk of fire in your area, bring all family pets into the house or the house yard for the day ... if the fire passes you by, then at the very worst the pets have had a day confined, but the alternative really doesn't bear thinking about.
Get ready - Pack everything into the car and if necessary, phone ahead to your emergency accommodation. Again if you have to unpack later, it's not such a big deal.
It is never recommended to leave animals behind unless you absolutely cannot evacuate them.
If this happens, do not tether animals and leave enough food and water in food dispensers where possible for at least a week.
Leave a note on the front door, letter box or fence advising there are animals inside, how many and what species as well as your mobile number.
Horses are good at avoiding fire, so place them in an eaten-out paddock away from structures, preferably with a dam and good shade. Ideally, the water source does not rely on power or have above-ground pipes, and there are steel fences.
A large sand menage is a good option.
Do not lock animals in stables or sheds and leave enough food for at least a week.
Remember, in any disaster, preparation is the key so that if the worst happens, the whole family will survive, ready to start again together if necessary.