How You Can Help Shelter Pets in an Emergency or Natural Disaster

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Two masked people moving cases of canned cat food

As disasters occur, it is natural to get immersed in the news as you hear the stories, see the dreadful images and empathize with victims for the hardship they are enduring. Immersion in the news also creates emotions that make you want to help in whatever way possible. For pet lovers who are sympathetic to the awful fate of pets who may be lost, killed, injured or surrendered to shelters during a crisis, it is especially difficult to imagine not being able to assist in some way: offering your time and service, or donating items or funds to an organization, cause or individual.

Unfortunately, disasters are not in short supply. If you are interested in helping out in the event of a disaster in your area, first ensure that your own preparedness plan is in place and then share the importance of disaster preparedness with your friends and family so no one is ever caught off guard. (It’s like that instruction we receive from the airlines: Make sure your own seat belt is buckled before assisting others.)

Next, take the time to research emergency or local animal welfare organizations that respond to emergencies so that you can sign up as a volunteer and gain any necessary training, experience and skills. You should also consider taking as many online animal behavior and care courses as possible, to gain more experience about what to expect from dogs and cats during emergencies.

Another training opportunity is taking a pet first-aid and CPR class so you can help animals who might not have access to veterinary care. And to further assist with caring for pets with injuries or illnesses, consider creating a first-aid kit for your pets and community pets.

If you want to get more hands-on experience with animals prior to a disaster, contact your local shelter and apply to become a volunteer or foster caregiver. The shelter may even have openings for foster caregivers who serve during emergencies.

Finally, during an emergency, you may be inclined to donate items to local shelters. However, donating items may not be the most helpful thing to do, since they may not be specifically what the shelter needs. Plus, the shelter staff may have to spend time and energy getting those items sorted, cleaned and stored. Instead, consider giving money, which can be used to purchase exactly what’s needed. Another option: Some shelters post wish lists of needed supplies on or, so you can order those items and have them shipped directly to the shelter.

While most of us may feel helpless in the face of devastation, every kind action taken by an individual during an emergency adds up to making life better for homeless pets and the people who care for them.

Click here for a printable checklist of emergency supplies for pets.

Click here for a printable checklist of what to include in a pet first-aid kit.