When I moved to Charleston in 1995 to start my new career and life on my own, hurricanes were the last thing on my mind.
There was still evidence of Hurricane Hugo: downed trees in the Francis Marion National Forest and a giant boat in someone's backyard near McClellanville. I can even remember, while still in Raleigh at school, hearing how Hugo had made it to Charlotte and knocked down the scoreboard of the then-new Charlotte Bobcats arena.
Each year at the beginning of May, the weather services would make a prediction about hurricanes and issue warnings to be ready. Since I had never experienced a storm directly, I paid little attention.
That was until Hurricane Floyd threatened in 1999. In August of that year, I had decided to start my own veterinary hospital. Equipment was purchased, staff hired and a building rented and modified.
To say the least, I was stressed. Would I make enough to pay my staff, the equipment and drug companies and have enough left over for food and my mortgage?
The week I was anticipating starting, Hurricane Floyd decided to head toward our coast. Suddenly, instead of the business, I had to decide what to do with my family and pets. How would I transport four cats and three dogs, my wife, mother-in-law and myself, and where would we go?
Fortunately, I had enough carriers and the cats were friendly enough to double up. We all squeezed into our minivan and headed for Seneca.
My uncle had passed away that summer, and his home had still not been sold. So I figured this would be the perfect place. With Interstate 26 a parking lot, we decided to take the scenic back roads.
Well, what normally is a four-hour trip took us 12 hours. Without litter pans, the cats could not use the bathroom. We ran out of water and food for everyone. My uncle's Bassett hound, whom we adopted, ran out of her glaucoma medicine along the way. The mixed smell of cat urine, cat food, dog food and dirty people and pets almost became unbearable. Upon our arrival in Seneca, we found the water had been turned off.
Fortunately, Floyd missed Charleston, and we all survived the ordeal. Upon returning to our home on Johns Island, I made a commitment that by June 1 (the official start of hurricane season) of each year I would be prepared to evacuate and survive a week. I go through the following list each year to make sure we are ready:
Food: I make sure to have enough food on hand to feed each pet for one week. Canned is the best, as it stores for longer and cannot spoil if it gets wet like dry food. Be sure to have a can opener stored with the food. Each year, when I replace the food from last year, the previous year's food is donated to the Charleston Animal Society food bank.
Water: I have enough water for each pet for one week. It is unpredictable how long we will be away, and when we return, the water may be off for days to weeks. Water needs vary by pet, weather, species and health issues, but a simple, quick calculation is to use the formula that a pet needs an ounce of water for every pound of body weight each day. So for my present number of pets (Flipper, 40 pounds; Ariel, 60 pounds; and five 10-pound cats), I need to have 150 ounces/per day. Remember, this does not include what the people will need.
Lodging: I make sure I have a place to stay that will accept not only my human family members, but the four-legged variety, too. This may be a family member or hotel.
Identification: If my pets and I get separated, the best way to get them back is to have identification on them. Every pet should have a microchip; however, they would have to go to a shelter or veterinary clinic to access the information. I check to make sure everyone has updated information on their collars and is also wearing their rabies tags. On our tags, we use cellphone numbers, as no one will be home to answer the home phone.
Medications: Knowing I may not be able to get to a pharmacy or the clinic for a while, I make sure to have at least one week's extra supply of medications.
Carriers/leashes: At this time of year, I make sure I have carriers for the cats and leashes for the dogs. Carriers fly off the shelves at pet stores like bread at the grocery store before an emergency.
Litter: I learned a valuable lesson during the Floyd evacuation. Bring litter for the cats.
We never can predict when the next hurricane will hit us. Lessen the stress by having a plan and supplies ready beforehand.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.