Protecting Animals during Wildfires

Time to prepare for an impending disaster is a luxury. Unanticipated natural disasters — such as a wildfire that spreads rapidly and unexpectedly due to wind conditions — highlight the importance of creating ready-to-go emergency plans for your staff and the animals in your care.

Thinking Ahead

In preparation for a natural disaster, identify several locations that might serve as evacuation sites for your patients. An evacuation location for a wildfire should be well outside the anticipated reach of the blaze, ideally several towns over. Just like as you should prepare emergency supply kits for your staff, make emergency supply kits for your patients and keep them readily on hand. It's highly likely that you'll find yourself treating smoke inhalation and burn injuries, so keep those in mind while creating the kits. Rather than creating individual kits for each potential patient, instead create general kits that are appropriate for each species that you treat. These kits should include food, widely used medications, syringes/needles, leashes/lead ropes/restraint tools, and so on.

Evacuation: Employees First, Patients Second

If evacuation is feasible, remove as many animals from the premises as possible. If your staff is transporting animals in vehicles, make sure that all patients are properly restrained so they aren’t injured during transport. Unfortunately, many emergencies don’t allow time for complete animal evacuation. Your first duty is to your employees, and human lives should always be prioritized above the lives of patients. Do not endanger yourself or your staff by reentering a severely fire-damaged structure or attempting to drive a vehicle through an active wildfire area.

When Evacuation Isn’t Possible

In the event that conditions are too treacherous to facilitate a full evacuation, your priority should be offering the animals their best chance at survival. If the wildfire is out of control and transportation isn't an option, your responsibility is to provide animals with the opportunity to fend for themselves. This means unlocking paddock or pen doors, and releasing small animal patients like dogs and cats from their cages so that they have the ability to outrun the blaze and attempt to save themselves. This course of action should only be pursued in the event of rapid-spreading, severe wildfires that drastically endanger the lives of human staff and would result in any kenneled or caged patients being trapped with no means of escape.