Following a tornado, hurricane, flood, earthquake, or other natural disaster, we may assume that the worst is past, but hazards remain – especially for the most vulnerable, namely children and animals. President & CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert, Chief Veterinary Advisor Dr. Patty Olson, and other experts at American Humane Association have put together a series of 10 simple tips to help parents and other caregivers keep children and animals safe and help them cope with the physical and emotional aftermath of a disaster.
- Even though the worst seems to be over, supervise children closely and inspect those areas in which they are playing. Gullies, downed electric wires, and sharp debris are just a few of the hazards children may encounter following a major disaster.
- Keep an eye on children’s emotional reaction to the crisis. Talk to children – and just as important – listen to them. Encourage kids to express how they feel and ask if anything is worrying them.
- Regardless of age, reassure them frequently that you, local officials, and their communities are all working to keep them safe and return life back to normal. Older children may seem more capable but may also be affected by the displacement in their lives.
- Watch for symptoms of stress, including clinginess, stomachaches, headaches, nightmares, trouble eating or sleeping, or changes in behavior.
- If you are concerned about the way your children are responding long after the crisis is over, consult your doctor, school counselor or local mental health professional.
Uncertainty and change in the environment affect animals, too, presenting new stresses and dangers.
- Your pet’s behavior may change after a crisis, becoming more aggressive or self-protective. Be sensitive to these changes and keep more room between them, other animals, children or strangers.
- Animals need comforting, too. Comfort your pet with kind words and lots of pats or hugs. If possible, provide a safe and quiet environment, even if it is not their own home.
- Following a disaster, keep your pets on a leash. Changes in the landscape may confuse them and fences and other landmarks may have changed, making it more likely for them to become lost.
- Be careful when allowing pets outside where they may encounter sharp or toxic debris.
- Animals may be at more risk to various diseases that accompany natural disasters. Consult your veterinarian if your pet displays any unusual physical symptoms, and determine if any precautionary measures should be considered.
Displacement, Loss, and Reunification
If pets had to be temporarily housed away from their families, be sure and explain the reasons to children, letting them know that their animals will reunited with the family as soon as possible. If a pet is lost and cannot be found, it is important to seek help for all family members who are grieving the loss of a best friend. And once pets are reunified with their families, whether at home, a friend’s house, or a shelter, remember that animals, just like people, often do best with structure in their lives. As the family reunites and rebuilds – structure will again emerge. The best part is when everyone – pets and people – can once again find stability and normalcy in their lives.