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Weathering the Storm With Your Assistance Dog

We all love Florida, but there are times when our home is not the Sunshine State. The hurricane season (which runs from June through November) causes great anxiety to owners of all pets, including Assistance Dogs. The special nature of Service Dogs can make the task of incorporating them into a Hurricane Readiness Plan complicated. Many of the same steps one should take for everyday pets apply to Service Dogs as well, though there are some important differences.

Your first priority should be creating an emergency kit of supplies for your Service Dog separate from those meant for your family. This should include:

  • At least 3 days of non-perishable food stored in an airtight, waterproof container.
  • At least 3 days of bottled water. 
  • Medicines and medications in an airtight, waterproof container.
  • Veterinary records.
  • A manual can opener.
  • Food/water bowls..
  • A first aid kit.
  • A picture of you and your pet together. If you are separated from your Assistance Dog this can help others to identify them.
  • Familiar items, such as toys, treats, or bedding.

You should also turn your attention to your Service Dog’s collar. Make sure that you have an identification tag securely attached, and, if possible, the address of the location you plan on evacuating to.

Hurricane shelters, hotels, motels, and other evacuation sites often do not allow pets. However, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all such locations are required to make an exception for Service Dogs. (There was a rumor circulating a few years ago that the 2006 PETS law requires hotels and motels to accomodate pets during disasters. This is untrue, but the ADA’s provision for requiring hotels and motels to accommodate service animals specifically, is still in force.)

Despite the law, you should be prepared for it to not always be enforced, as some organizations may not be aware of the ADA, or believe that it does not apply in emergency situations.  Be prepared and find shelter alternatives for your Assistance Dog ahead of time.

If you do plan on evacuating to a hurricane shelter, and you and your Service Dog are accepted, the experience may still be unpleasant for your Assistance Dog. They may be unused to large crowds in tight spaces and uncomfortable surfaces. 

As part of your Hurricane preparedness, you should help your dog become accustomed to these types of situations. Take them to crowded, public places and have them walk over metal grates, rocky terrain, and shallow water. If your Service Dog usually works on one particular side of you, try practicing heading downstairs with them (if appropriate) on the opposite side, to prepare for the possibility of being evacuated down a staircase with a handrail on side normally occupied by your dog.

Most importantly, remember that your demeanor travels down the leash to your dog. If you need to evacuate, or choose to, remain calm and reassuring. Your Assistance Dog will respond in kind and make a difficult situation much easier to navigate for the both of you.

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