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I was watching the snow fall the other day from the comfort of my living room couch. My outdoor work had been cancelled for the day but it got me thinking – what if the snow had started while I was at work and the roads were so bad that I could not get home or worse – I tried to get home and was involved in a car accident. What if the unthinkable happened and I was incapacitated, unable to return to my home? Well, I actually have asked that question before and I do have an agreement with a neighbor who now is in possession of a spare key. But would she know to come over if I was unable to call?

It is an important question every pet owner must ask: Who will care for my pets if I am unable to come home tonight? While some responsible owners have thought to make long term plans for their pets, the question here is: what about in the immediate aftermath of your own personal disaster — what about those first 24 hours?

Many years ago, as a teenager, I was involved in a terrible car accident. I had been knocked out but was conscious by the time help began arriving. I recall EMTs asking me for my parents’ phone number. I started to rattle off something and then stopped. Suddenly, I could not recall my own phone number! Try as I did, phone numbers evaded my scrambled brain. Newer smart phones have a place or a downloadable app for an ICE entry – I.C.E. stands for “In Case of Emergency”. This allows you to list numbers of who to contact if you are incapacitated and unable to give a phone number.

Many people are taking this a step further and storing multiple ICE phone numbers and instructions including what needs to be done for pets in the immediate aftermath of an accident or emergency. In addition to smart phones, people are carrying personal flash or thumb drives with this information readily available. There are a few in the market that are either easily adapted for this purpose or specifically designed and easily recognized by emergency personnel.

  • Microvault is a small device that can be clipped to a pocket, notebook or keychain.
  • MedicTag is the original USB medic alert tag used for emergency alerts and information. These USB’s also clip onto keychains or can be worn as bracelets or necklaces.
  • Road ID offers bracelets and other gear with actual tags allowing for 5 to 6 lines of emergency contact information. They even have collars for dogs with ICE ID tags.

However, before even buying tags or USB Emergency ID bracelets, you need to know who you are going to put as your pet emergency contact. You might choose a neighbor or family member but make sure they are aware of their role, capable and willing to fulfill the obligation, and know what would be required of them. They need to either be provided with a spare key or knowledgeable about where to find one. If you live far from family or friends, you might be able to enlist a local pet sitting service or a service through your veterinarian to fill the role of emergency contact for immediate pet care but make sure you clear this with them before listing them as a contact.

Among the listing of emergency contact numbers, it is a good idea to include Next of Kin (NOK). Your NOK should at least know the name of your temporary pet caregiver and your temporary pet caregiver should also know the name of your NOK. While it is important to list pet information, it is more likely that emergency services will contact your NOK if you are incapacitated and it may be up to your NOK to quickly arrange pet care.

Your emergency pet caregiver should ideally be familiar with your pets and their routine

What if you don't come home tonight?

What if you don’t come home tonight?

and at the very least, have met the animals at least once so that they are not complete strangers. You should have an ICE write up for emergency care for the pets – what they eat, when they eat, any medications – how much, how often, how to give it, as well as listing where all these things are located. Your emergency pet caregiver needs to either have this list or know where to find it in your house (i.e., pinned to the wall in the pantry above the dog/cat food storage). Include also any special routines that need to be followed for your pets’ well-being – how often a dog is walked, where to go, where the leash is located, commands used, rewards, etc. List also veterinary contact information and talk to your veterinarian about having an emergency care permission on file in case of your absence (this is also a handy thing to have current if your pets are in a pet sitters care while you are on a trip). If your pet is shy, make sure the pet caregiver is aware of possible hiding spots and how best to coax your pet out (special treat or toy).

Knowing your pets will be cared for is one less thing to concern you when you are stranded by circumstances beyond your control. Your pets care should be one thing you always have under control.

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