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How To Create a Disaster Plan for Service and Working Dogs

While everyone should have a well thought out disaster plan, those with disabilities often have special concerns, such as having extra supplies, medications or other provisions.

While amazing, Service Dogs are still domesticated animals and they will not survive on their own. Even if they do, that’s no assurance you’ll be able to find them once it’s over. Learn how to create a disaster plan for Service Dogs and working K9s.

The likelihood that you and your animals will survive a fire, flash flood, hurricane, tornado, or even a terrorist attack partly depends on how prepared you are, and being prepared starts with learning how to create a disaster plan that includes your Service Dogs, Working K9s and/or pets.

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Begin by putting together an animal emergency supply kit and developing a pet care buddy system. Whether you decide to stay put in an emergency or evacuate to a safer location, you will need to make plans in advance for your pets. Keep in mind that what’s best for you is typically what’s best for your animals.

“It never occurs to people that you won’t have that 5-10 minutes to get ready. You need to be ready before anything happens.”

The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 requires the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure that state and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and Service Animals prior to, during, and following a major disaster or emergency. However, you still need to be responsible for the safety of yourself and your animals — and that means realizing that during an emergency things can move sideways very easily. If you are going to a public shelter, it is important to understand that animals may not be allowed inside.  Service Dogs should be allowed, but you should be prepared for conflicts. You may meet people who are uneducated about the law or who believe the extreme circumstances may override the law. Remember, even the best trained Service Dog may experience stress in the crowded, noisy, emotional environment of a shelter. Plan in advance for shelter alternatives that will work for both you and your animals. Consider friends, family members or others who live outside of your immediate area who would be willing to host you and your animals in an emergency.

Plan where you will stay if relocated

Assemble an emergency supply survival kit

Develop a Service Dog or pet care buddy system

Visit for information on to prepare for disasters.

Visit for information on to prepare for disasters.

How to Identify Shelter for Animals
Whether you decide to stay put in an emergency or evacuate to a safer location, you will need to make ‘plans in advance’ for your Working Dogs and pets. Explore hotels and motels that accept pets well in advance of a disaster. For public health reasons, many emergency shelters cannot accept pets, however, they Must accept a Service Dog with their owner. Keep your local animal shelter’s number in your list of emergency numbers. They might be able to provide information concerning pets and housing during a disaster. Consider loved ones or friends outside of your immediate area who would be willing to host you and your pets in an emergency. Develop a buddy system with neighbors, friends and relatives to make sure that someone is available to care for or evacuate your pets if you are unable to do so.

Tips For Persons With Working Dogs and Pets
The first step to being prepared for an emergency with your animal is to create a “survival kit” that is easily accessible for your Service Dogs and pets. It should include non-perishable food, bottled water, medications, veterinary records, cat litter and pan, manual can opener, carrier or crate if required, food dishes and first aid kit. As well, make sure that identification tags up-to-date and securely fastened to your animal’s collar.

The second step, if possible, is to attach the address and phone number of your evacuation site to your animal’s collar. If your Service Dog or pet gets lost, their tag will be the only way they can ever get back home.

The third step is to socialize your dog and get them used to large groups of people in tight spaces. Visit parades, farmer’s markets, public squares, fireworks. Get them used to different surfaces like metal grates, rocky terrain, walking through shallow water — anything you can think of that they would encounter in a disaster situation.

If you have a Guide Dog, Mobility Assistance Dog or other type of Service Dog which usually works on one side (or of you have an arm injury/amputation, etc), practice heeling down stairs with the dog on the opposite side. This is important if you are ever evacuated from a building with a stair rail located on the same side your dog usually works.

Tips for Responders Assisting Owners with Service Dogs
Service Dogs need to be ready to perform their trained work or tasks for their handler at any time. You may not fully realize the extent of the handler’s disability. Do not distract, pet or offer a Service Dog any food without the permission of the owner. Take the dog’s leash NOT the harness if asked to hold or restrain a Service Dog. When the Service Dog is wearing a harness, the Service Dog knows they are on duty. Plan for the Service Dog to be evacuated with the owner when at all possible.


1) DO NOT Leave Your Pets Behind! Pets cannot survive “on their own” and if by some chance they do, you may not be able to find them when you return.

2) NEVER Leave Your Pet Chained Outside! Animals have instincts about severe weather changes and may isolate themselves if they are afraid. Bringing them inside immediately can stop them from running away. Dogs can succumb to hypothermia and frostbite. Shorthaired dogs must wear a jacket outside to protect them from the cold when the thermometer reaches 40 degrees, or below. Longhaired dogs must be well-groomed. When their hair or fur gets matted, heat is lost an they cannot keep themselves warm. If there’s flooding, a chained dog cannot escape to higher ground.

3) LIMIT Your Time Outside With Your Pet During Freezing Weather. Wipe Their Paws when they come inside to prevent blistering from salt and ice.  Keep Them Away from frozen lakes and streams that could break through to frigid waters.

It’s Never Too Soon To Prepare A Disaster Plan For Our Service Dogs and Pets. Mother nature and all her fury can strike no matter the season – make sure you are prepared!












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Bev Thompson is a Feature Writer covering stories about Service and Working Dogs for online and magazine publications and is the recipient of Excellence in Writing Nominations from The Dog Writer’s Association of America (DWAA). She lives in New York City with her Sealyham Terrier, Pip, who is Full of The Dickens, stirring the pot competing and titling in companion and performance events and currently ‘getting nosey’ in her Scent Work Classes.


  • Sherry April 14, 2015

    Very informative article. It got me thinking about my cat.

  • mperuo April 14, 2015

    Great article. You always teach me something. Thanks.


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