We’ve all seen the horror of what can happen to pets when disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, strike. Aside from hurricanes, these events may include fires, floods, snowstorms, and earthquakes, as well as terrorist attacks, accidents involving toxic or hazardous materials, and so on. Should any of these things happen, you and your pet may be forced to evacuate your home. No one likes to dwell on worst-case scenarios, but planning now could save later heartache.

No matter where you live, you should make an evacuation plan. Even if the chances for disaster seem remote, you can have peace of mind knowing that you will be ready and that your cat won’t get left behind in the confusion. Many people think felines are self-sufficient creatures. There is a belief that cats will be better off at home. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If there is cause for you to evacuate, then your cat is definitely not safe left in your home. “Pets left behind can be lost, injured or killed,” says Laura Bevan, director of the Southeast Regional Office of The Humane Society of the United States.

Emergency Backup
Talk to a reliable neighbor or local pet sitter. See if he or she would be willing to rescue your cat should you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to safely return home to get it yourself. Line up several alternates in case this individual must also evacuate or is otherwise unable should disaster strike.

Evacuation Kit
Your kit should contain a copy of your cat’s vaccination records, a clean carrier, a comfortable collar with ID tag, a month’s worth of medicine, and a week’s worth of food, water, and kitty litter. The disposable boxes that come with litter are very handy and do not take up a lot of space. You will also want to include bowls, a scooper, a small blanket or bed, and at least one toy.

Be sure to store everything (except the carrier) in a lightweight waterproof bin to prevent items from getting wet. It’s also a good idea to swap out the food and water every few months to prevent them from becoming stale.

Your cat may have to spend a fair amount of time in the carrier, so make sure there is enough space for a small litter box. Your cat should also be able to eat, stand up, and turn around inside the carrier without falling into the litter box.

Pet-friendly Places
The Red Cross is unable to permit pets in its shelters, which makes it all the more imperative that you should have a set place to go in the event of an evacuation. Bevan recommends, “Do your homework now to find friends, family or a hotel willing to accept animals, and head there if an evacuation is ordered.”

Consider calling pet-friendly hotels outside of your immediate area. Find out exactly what their pet policies are. Talk to family members and friends who live outside your region. Even if you cannot stay with them, perhaps they would be willing to care for your cat for a period of time. You may also want to contact boarding and veterinary facilities away from your immediate area. Ask if they would be able to board your cat in an emergency.

Act Quickly
If a disaster happens and you think there is the slightest chance that you will need to evacuate your home, pick up your cat and place it safely in a room with little or no furniture, such as a bathroom. Doing this will make your cat easy to access if it turns out that you need to leave in a hurry. The last thing you want to do in an emergency is chase an understandably frightened cat.

Do not wait until the twelfth hour to evacuate. A disaster is one situation when it’s better to be safe than sorry. In emergencies, hotels sell out very quickly, especially the lower-cost, long-term hotels and motels. The fact that you have a cat means your options are going to be even more limited. The sooner you can confirm your reservation, the better. Hotel chains that permit pets at most or all of their locations include Candlewood Suites, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Motel 6, Red Roof Inn and Residence Inn Marriott.