If you live in Southern California, then you definitely know about the potential for wildfires. In Australia, they’re an unfortunate fact of life. And in recent years, probably thanks to global warming, wildfires have begun to occur in areas not ordinarily prone to them. On May 9, a wildfire began just outside the Canadian city of Fort MacMurray, Alberta. Named “The Beast” by firefighters, it roared into the town, and destroyed some 2,400 buildings. At time of this writing, five weeks later, it is still burning. The good news is that it is not expected to grow. Thus far, it has consumed 59,000 hectares and has a perimeter of a little over a hundred miles
The Effect on Pets in Fort MacMurray
This fire grew so quickly that people often had little warning before having to evacuate. In many cases, people who thought they were safe were told, “You have to go now.” People at work were prohibited from going back to their homes for their pets. Fortunately, many survived, and were taken in by rescue organizations that posted on social media as pets were found, and many were reunited with their families.
The take-away from all this is that now, wildfires can happen almost anywhere. What can you do to protect your dog?
Know the Risks, and Remove Them When You Can
If you are concerned about the possibility of wildfires in your area, you can refer to the USDA Wildlife Hazard Potential website to find out the level of risk in your area. If your risk is moderate to high, you can take measures to protect yourself, your home and your pets. Make sure that your roof gutters are clean, and that there are no tree limbs hanging over the roof. Keep your yard free of debris, and remove any dried-out shrubs that could provide fuel for a fire.
Know Your Dog’s Whereabouts
It’s easy to find a Saint Bernard, an English Mastiff, a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd – they take up a lot of space. If you have a small dog, though, he might be a bit hard to locate, especially if he feels threatened. So, where does he like to hide – in the closet, under the bed, or somewhere else? You need to know your dog’s habits so that you can find him quickly if necessary.
Make Sure Your Dog Can Be Identified
If you don’t have an ID tag for your dog, you should definitely get one. In the wake of the Fort MacMurray wildfire, many of the dogs that made it back to their families were wearing ID tags, which made it very easy for rescue organizations to post shareable messages on social media, saying “Are you Jane Doe? We have your dog.” Some of the reunions were truly inspiring, and would melt even the stoniest heart.
I talked a bit about the importance of dog tags in Guarding Against Dog Theft. Here, of course, theft isn’t the issue, but it’s still very important to be able to have your dog identified. Dog tags are so inexpensive! At Amazon, for instance, you can buy very attractive anodized aluminum tags that come custom engraved with your dog’s name, your address and your phone number. They’re a bargain at $3.70, down from $9.99. If your dog is lost due to a wildfire or anything else, they can help bring him home to you.
Of course, having said that, I would have to point out that tags can fall off, and they can be removed. Personally, I prefer microchipping, but it’s not always in the budget for everyone. If you can’t afford microchipping, then please, at least get your dog an ID tag.
Have a Good Carrier
The last thing you want in the event of a wildfire is to have to load a panicked dog into your vehicle and try to drive away with him. You are trying to escape a very dangerous situation, so make sure that you have a quality pet carrier, and that your dog is trained to go into the crate without kicking up a fuss. You need to get out of there, and you need to do it quickly.
Keep an “Escape” Kit
Make sure that you always have on hand, in a convenient carrier, a supply of dog food, bottled water, and any medications your dog might need. You don’t want to be on the road with a hungry, thirsty dog, or worse, one that is in need of medication that has been left behind. This is good advice not just for wildfires, but for any other type of disaster that could force you to leave your home on short notice.
Get Veterinary Care
If you have had to vacate your home quickly due to a wildfire, then chances are that you will experience no small measure of discomfort. You could be suffering from smoke inhalation, and may even have sustained some burns. Your dog will be equally affected. If he has been exposed to heat, he could be burned both externally and internally. Smoke inhalation could have caused damage to his lungs and windpipe, and he could be suffering from oxygen deprivation.
If your dog seems lethargic, is panting, or has trouble standing up, then you need to get him to a vet right away. If you don’t, then your wildfire might end up costing you much more than your home and personal property – it could take the life of the dog you love more than anything in the world.
I hope that you will never have to suffer the horror of a wildfire. My prayers are with the citizens of Fort MacMurray, and with their pets. Sadly, though, this seems to be what our planet has come to. Mother Nature is paying us back for years of neglect and abuse. Maybe humans are getting what they deserve. Dogs, however, are totally innocent in the whole equation, so please protect yours.