A show of hands: who has a fire evacuation plan for your home?
There may be a few of you out there, I’m sure, but how many that do, also have a plan that involves your pets?
Unfortunately, I’m guessing that number is even smaller. In recognition of Pet Fire Safety Day, I present the following cautionary tale:
I was one of the few who never thought they might need an evacuation plan, nor what to do with my two cats in the event of a fire. I lived in a six-flat on the North Side of Chicago and there had never been a fire in my building, nor in my immediate neighborhood.
For those of you reaching for tissues, I promise that this story does have a mostly happy ending.
Late one evening, as I had just gone to bed (the cats were curled up as well), I heard my buzzer go off and a neighbor running down the stairs. Gradually, I began to smell the smoke and assumed someone had set a trashcan on fire (and yes, I did Tweet about it before taking action, brilliant!). As I tried to wake up and assess what was going on, I thought it best to scoop up the cats and get them out, at the very least to save their tiny lungs from the smoke.
I knew their hiding places and where they would go as soon as I got out their carriers, which were stowed in my closet. My older cat crawled right in and immediately regretted it, tipping himself over in the process. The younger cat, much smaller and more agile, decided to give me a bit of a workout. I chased her up and down the hallway a few times before she ran into the kitchen. It was then I discovered that the fire was much more serious than I had thought. Flames from the apartment above were quickly making their way down the porch outside – this was not a simple trashcan incident.
After a few more laps and some (understandable) hysterics from me, I finally caught her and secured her in her carrier. I grabbed a jacket (it was around 30 that night), eased the carriers onto my shoulder, grabbed my purse and stumbled down the stairs. Only after getting out did I realize how bad the smoke was and how pressed for time we had been.
We were lucky – making it out unscathed – as did the dog upstairs; the cat downstairs however, could not be found by her owner and I am unsure if she survived. My apartment did not fare well either, as it was gutted and I was only able to go back to salvage what I could. I did, however, have some amazing friends, one of whom despite being allergic to cats, picked both of mine up that night and housed them for a week.
Hopefully others can benefit from this frightening experience and can be aware of what you need to do to get your pets out of danger. You should:
- Always know where your carrier is (or method of transport depending on the type of pet) and if it is accessible in an emergency. Collapsible carriers work well in this case and don’t take a lot of room to store.
- Be aware of your pets and their habits – Does your cat have a favorite hiding place? Is there a particular spot they run to when frightened?
- Have a strategy – It’s scary to think about, but if you have multiple pets, it’s something that needs to be done. A friend of mine, who has two dogs and three cats, admitted that she would have had no idea what to do in that situation. Which animals will you need to get out first? Will you need to make additional trips?
- Alert Fire Fighters to your pets – You can easily purchase a small sign to hang near the entrances to your home that state how many pets are inside. This is particularly handy if an emergency happens and you aren’t at home. If possible, include your Veterinarian’s number as an emergency contact as well.
- Ensure your pets have proper ID – They should be microchipped and have collars with tags for identification. Should they escape out a door or window, they can be found and returned to you.
Have you been in a situation such as this? Please add your own stories and tips in the comments!