Ask Einstein: Help My Human Prepare for a Cat Emergency


Dear Einstein,

My human and I watched the movie 2012 last night and it scared me out of my fur. I understand it’s hurricane season and National Disaster Preparedness Month. I saw a show on TV about Hurricane Katrina. Nice name, but I understand it didn’t go well for the family pets. I live near the coast. Do I have anything to worry about? What can I do to make sure I don’t get left behind?

They call me NOAA

Yo, Noah,

In 2005 when Katrina hit, cats and dogs were lucky to have gotten out of Louisiana with a higher than ambient body temperature. Thousands of pets didn’t make it, and most of the cats and dogs left behind never saw their families again.

Mother Nature loves to show off her destructive creativity. So, no matter where you live, disasters can pop up with little or no warning. Tornadoes, earthquakes or wildfires may line you up in their proverbial sights.

Then there are unnatural disasters, like trains derailing and chemical spills. At any time, a cop could show up at your door and tell everyone to get out!

A word to your humans: Never leave your fur family behind, even when the cop promises you’ll be back home in time to watch My Cat From Hell. If it’s too dangerous for people to stay, it’s too dangerous for pets. Humans won’t leave the toddler sleeping in her crib if it’s only going to be a few minutes. Just saying …

In 1996, a train carrying enough explosive chemicals to evaporate the state of Rhode Island derailed in Weyauwega, Wisconsin. The town immediately evacuated 2,300 humans who lived less than two miles from the wreck. Cops told the people to leave their pets behind cuz they’d be back soon. Then the train cars began exploding, sending train parts and fireballs 300 feet in the air. Anxious pet parents were told it would be weeks before the government gods would allow them back in their homes. By that time, the trapped furry family members would be deader than disco. After two days, some of the pet owners mutinied, and snuck into town to save their cats and dogs. Two days later, the governor ordered the National Guard to help pet owners retrieve their pets.

Fortunately, humans have learned a lot from the great flying train catastrophe and Hurricane Katrina. Those high and mighty Washington types passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards act (PETS) — I like to call it the No Pet Left Behind act. Now cities and states have to include pets in evacuation plans. That means unlike before they can’t order people to leave their pet to die in a disaster. But the government can’t (and won’t) do it all.

Noah, your humans should pretend they’re Cat Scouts and Be Prepared!

Most cats, including me, show eminently better sense than humans, preferring to hide under a bed or in a closet at the first sign of danger. If your humans know something like a wildfire, hurricane, or even an old-fashioned severe thunderstorm is speeding in their direction, they should put you in a small, secure room so they can find you pronto.

Before a disaster happens, your human needs to look into some stylish body piercing. I’m not talking about a nose stud or belly-button ring. A microchip placed between your shoulder blades may not make you look cooler, but when emergency volunteers ask, “Who’s your daddy?”, you can tell them, or rather the chip can. Even if you lose your collar or tags, that microchip can tell shelter workers not to euthanize you.

Next, your humans should assemble a catastrophe avoidance tote (or Go Bag) for every puss and pooch in the house. All Go Bags should be stored in an easy-to-remember and easy-to-get-to place, not in the basement underneath a nonfunctioning transmission for that 1971 Ford Pinto. So what exactly goes into a kitty kit or a pooch pack? I’ll be talking about kitties’ stuff, but dog owners can use their gray matter and substitute the words “poop bags” for “litter box” and “leash” for “carrier.”

  • An old pillowcase. What happens when the vet transportation device (carrier) comes out? Any kitty worth his litter becomes a magician and disappears. Since we kitties don’t associate the pillow case with anything scary, you won’t vanish when you see it. Your humans can slip it over your head and place you in the carrier without the need for chain-mail gloves or reconstructive surgery. Plus you’ll have a cozy pillowcase to curl up on.

  • A carrier for each cat. You could be stuck in there for a week, so you’ll need to be able to stand up and turn around inside, with enough room to fit in a shoebox or disposable aluminum baking pan (litter box), and food and water bowls. In case you get separated from your humans, the carrier should have their names and cell phone number written on the outside with a permanent marker, and a luggage tag with contact info.
  • Bottled water for a week. Even if there’s safe water where you’re going, strange water might give you the runs. There’s no experience in the world like being stuck in a car with a cat experiencing overactive bowels.
  • A week’s worth of food. Use pull-tab cans or plastic pouches that don’t need a can opener. Don’t forget dry kibble in a zippered freezer bag, in case you get the “crunchies” on the road.
  • Poop cleanup stuff. Because what goes in must come out, include enough cat litter to last for a week, and a scoop and a handful of plastic grocery store poop bags. Store the litter in a waterproof container (like the zippered freezer bag).
  • Any kitty prescription medicines, plus the name and phone number of your veterinarian. (Your mom should rotate out meds when the clocks spring forward or fall back so they won’t expire.) Keep copies of prescriptions for refrigerated meds like insulin.
  • Harness and leash. A harness works better for evacuation situations than collars. If you get scared and take a swipe at your mom, she can stay safe … from a distance. A harness won’t come off, either. Your ID, rabies and microchip tags should be attached.
  • A copy of your medical records. Store records, especially rabies shot records, in a zippered plastic bag to protect them from water damage.

The above items are must-haves, but here are some other helpful things to have handy:

  • A pet first aid kit. (Not all the medicines in human first aid kits are safe for pets.)
  • Current photos of you and your human kept in a zippered plastic bag. Not only are these great memories, they’re proof of ownership. And if you get lost, it will help emergency workers identify you.
  • Toys and your favorite blankie. How boring is that carrier going to be for a week at a time?
  • Baby wipes. In case you make a mess or your human can’t wash up after scooping the box.

Once you’re ready to leave, your humans still need to know where to go. Unless they have friends or family to stay with, they’ll want to keep a list of pet-friendly hotels. While people can’t be forced to evacuate without pets, few shelters permit furry types. (Ridiculous, since we’re cleaner and better behaved than most rug rats.)

Motel 6/Accor, Super 8, La Quinta, Days Inn and Red Roof exhibit excellent taste in clientele, and usually offer pet-friendly accommodations. As soon as your humans decide they need to leave, they should call and make reservations. (Your human mom can even make your reservations through to benefit her favorite animal shelter at no additional charge.)

I hope you never experience disaster other than a bad disaster movie, Noah, but now you can nap peacefully knowing your humans have planned ahead. Hopefully you’ll never again have to ask yourself, “Noah, how long can you tread water?”

Read related stories on Catster:

Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don’t have to be written from the cat’s point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat’s behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.

Einstein’s assistant, Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon.

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