Disasters Come Without Warning

The North Florida Horse Rescue, Inc. (NFHR) is a volunteer-run animal disaster response organization. Founded to provide evacuation during natural disasters, NFHR also educates horse owners on disaster preparation, procedures and evacuation. Chris Dunn began that organization after seeing the tragedies left behind by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We asked her to help us sensibly prepare for unexpected trouble. Her advice may take you by surprise.

What does your organization do, and how did you get started’

NFHR began after Dale (Dunn’s husband) and I went out and worked after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I didn’t want to see what happened there happen again. I wanted to make sure everyone I came into contact with knew they need to be prepared in advance.

When Dale and I went to Lamar Dixon (a Louisiana staging area for horse care post-Hurricane Katrina) we worked under Habitat for Horses, and then in May we merged with them because they are the largest horse protection organization. They don’t just rescue horses. We’re a big one for the abuse cases, and we work with most of the federal state organizations for seizures.

What do you do’

My major role is emergency preparedness, and I am working with the Florida State Agricultural Response Team. Although I am educated and trained as an equine investigator, my heart is in emergency preparedness. And I lead up the Clay County mounted emergency response team.

How do horse owners know how and when to evacuate’

When is you need to try to evacuate with horses 72 hours prior to something happening I am talking hurricane here. With fire or flood you don’t know it’s coming until it’s there. You need to be totally prepared beforehand.

What are some key ingredients for that preparation’

You need to have a preparedness kit, you need to know your horses can board a trailer, and you need to have a list of where you can go. You need to develop a personal safety plan, have a disaster kit ready, and see how much food and water your animals need to have.

You need to have proof of ownership and that means your Coggins and vet records in a waterproof container. That is what we did at the forum (an educational meeting for horse owners) this year. We had big plastic pouches, and we put everything in there along with emergency equine sheltering lists.

What is the most important item to have in the trailer or barn’

Medical kits that have everything in it . . . everything that you would need for a medical emergency with a horse. Bandages, a 10 cc syringe of Banamine from the vet, and syringes. Even if you didn’t have this you would at least have antibiotic cream, ways to bandage up a wound. Almost like your first-aid kit for a person. We highly recommend you have some kind of anti-inflammatory in the kit, including anything that would take the edge off of a very stressed horse right away.

When should you stay home instead of evacuating’

I look at the size of the hurricane. Anything above a 2, and I am out of here. It’s not worth it. With tornadoes, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. With blizzards, you know the storm is coming in. Most people in the north are equipped for blizzards, have the appropriate feed, hay to maintain them in cold weather. You need a generator on any kind of farm. That is my biggest thing.

You need to be able to provide the basic needs for you and your animals, them first. If you have a fire coming and it’s traveling, nothing is worth staying for. It might cost you a little money when you are staying in a hotel and then end up turning around and going home, but it’s not worth risking your animals’ well being [to stay]. I am not a big one for ”OK, I can handle this,” because I have seen too much of the other side.

What should you do if you will have to leave your animals’

There are instances that you have no choice but to leave your animals, but you know they are survivors. You don’t lock them up in a barn. You turn them loose in the best field you possibly can. Leave food and water in containers that can’t be tipped over, and put it so rescue workers can get to it. Don’t tie your animals. Leave them out, so that they can get away from rising water. They can get away from the danger. They will do that. Animals are pretty smart.

How should you identify your horses’

I am a big pro-microchipper. Everything needs to be microchipped. The thing that saved us in Louisiana was that the horses are required to be microchipped to have a Coggins, so the horses we found were identified that way. Also, if you’re leaving, take a can of spray paint and spray your number on the side of your horse. I think any ID neckbands help. All my halters have tags on them, but . . . I know that’s coming off. If I had to leave my horses, I would be out there with the biggest, brightest can of spray paint I could find.

How can you have a trailer at your disposal if you don’t own one’

That is where you do the preparedness. If you don’t have a trailer, find somebody that will help you get out if you need to get out. Let authorities know that you’re there, and you have horses, and somebody will help you get out. Do not wait until it’s too late.

What is the biggest mistake you see horse owners make’

The fact that they didn’t take their animals and go. That was the first number-one thing. [During the hurricane rescue efforts] my husband was standing there, and this man came running up frantically, and he said, ”I left my horses locked up, and I need somebody to go through and see if they are OK. And by the way, an eight-foot storm surge went through there.”

Thank God, they had a lot of people that were going through and knocked the doors down, and let the animals out. And it just so happened that someone came to this guy’s barn, and he only lost one horse and that was a mare. But his dogs were in crates in his house . . . You have to be responsible. They rely on your to protect them, and they have a natural instinct to flee danger. When you can’t get them out you have to give them that opportunity. Make sure that they are identified and let somebody know where they are.

A Final Note

Dunn recommends the American Veterinary Medical Association’s booklet, ”Saving The Whole Family,” available at http://www.avma.org. You can reach the AVMA by phone at 847-925-8070.

In addition, Habitat for Horses has written a booklet that Dunn says will be available online soon. Check www.habitatforhorses.org or call them at 866-HFH-LSER.