Memories of storm fuel vet's mission to keep pets safe in disaster

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Courtesy: Fort Hays State University Courtesy: Fort Hays State University

Wichita veterinarian Christen Skaer can't shake the memory of the devastating scene after a deadly tornado ripped through the town of Greensburg nearly 10 years ago. Not only because of the destruction, but the loss of life for people and of their animals. 

Skaer was a veterinary responder to the disaster. Now, with the spring storm season arriving she's using that memory as fuel to help Wichita-area residents keep their pets safe during severe weather.

"It was incredible to see the devastation," Skaer said. "We weren't prepared. We didn't know what we were doing. We didn't have any state plan in place."

Now there is a state plan -- and as a member of the Kansas Animal Response Team Skaer is working to educate animal owners on how to implement it when disaster strikes. Skaer held a preparedness seminar at Skaer Veterinary Clinic Saturday. 

"We talk about human preparedness first," said Skaer. "Because if we're not prepared we aren't going to be able to help our animals."

She said it starts with putting together what's called a "Go-bag" to keep all the necessities for keeping your animal safe in one convenient space. They should be packed and ready to go if you and your pet need to leave your home. 

These bags should be filled with:

  • Pet food and water to last three days
  • Treats
  • Medications
  • Copies of vaccination records
  • Photos of you and your pet for ID purposes
  • Bowls
  • Litter and Litter pans
  • Leashes
  • Bedding
  • Toys
  • Kennels (some are collapsible)
  • And a list of important contacts

With your supplies on the ready, she says, animal owners, should get track of their pets and have them in the home or other animals in a readily available safe space. 

Skaer said it helps to have pets trained to respond to simple commands. This way when a crisis occurs you can get them inside or on the go quickly at a moment's notice. This, as many pets become lost by being frightened and running away during a storm. 

"Have your pets in your own evacuation plan," Skaer said. "If they're important to you -- have a plan. Have them in the garage, somewhere they are a little bit safer."

As many pets -- dogs in particular -- often cower under beds or similar areas during storms this can be extra helpful.

"Practice, practice, practice before hand," Skaer said. "So if you've remain calm, and if you have something you can say that gets (your pet excited to come to you) that can get (them) right out from under the bed."

She mentioned that some medications are available for animals with storm phobias, as well as looking into the possibility that a Thundershirt or other storm jacket may help your animal.

Despite the tragic losses in Greensburg, Skaer said it was seeing people so happy and relieved after finding their animals that helped inspire her and others to create the animal response team. 

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