With the anniversary of 911 coming up, I thought this column would be an interesting one for our readers. Member Francoise Joiris # 1014 lives in NYC, and she lived through that day. I think her experience is one you will want to read about, and her advice is excellent.
No one wants to think about the possibility of having to evacuate, but being prepared beforehand can make all the difference between smoothly and quickly getting out with all your animals, or having to leave your animals behind. Having eight animals and two children in a New York apartment, I had given the matter a lot of thought. Little did I know how my planning would soon pay off!
All small animal carriers should be easily accessible at all times, as should leashes for the dogs. Our car always carries at least a gallon of drinking water, a first aid kit, and a folding dog crate. A box of dog biscuits is always on hand, because in a pinch that is the one thing dogs, cats, turtles, and parrots will eat.
Practicing evacuation drills will get everyone comfortable with the plan. I have taught the cats to run into the bathroom, a small room where it is easy to catch them, and both parrots are accustomed to being put into their carriers. Teaching cats to go into a small room is really only a matter of feeding them there, remembering to feed them treats at odd times so that they aren’t just conditioned to go into the room at a specific time. They are not as reliable as the dogs, but they are getting pretty good. Training the parrots is a little more complicated and beyond the scope of this article, but if you have birds, it is something you will want to look into. The dogs go on leashes. They are accustomed to being walked by strangers as well as being handed over to strangers and carried by them. We live on the 5th floor, so I want to know that in a worst case scenario my dogs can be carried down a ladder by a fireman without struggling. Each person in the family is in charge of two or three animals, depending on how many of us are home at the time. Pretending to panic while practicing evacuation will give you an idea of how your animals might react in a real emergency. That way you will know what you need to work on.
We have only been asked to evacuate once, and that day was September 11, 2001. We live in downtown New York City, and the evacuation went quite smoothly. The two human kids took the cats and turtles, and I did the birds and dogs. Everyone was out of our apartment in less than five minutes. Then I went to my mother’s apartment (I knew she was out of town) and got her cat. What a difference! Her cat is completely untrained, and was panicked by the sirens, other noises, and dust. I couldn’t find his carrier right away, and some of the screws on it were loose. My daughter and I used much valuable time trying to catch him and crate him. I am glad we didn’t have to leave him there, but it was a possibility.
Something humorous did happen to us on that horrible day. After we had gotten the three of us, our eight animals, and my mother’s cat into the car we saw some of the thousands of people walking along the streets. They were leaving the WTC site, and many were walking without shoes. We squished together as best we could (my husband was at work uptown so not with us), and offered two young women a ride. They were both secretaries who worked in the twin towers, and had left with nothing. They gratefully got into the car and we all said “hello” and then my African Grey Parrot chimed in with a loud “hello!” The ladies said hello back, and he, wanting to continue the conversation, said “how are you?” One of the young women turned and told him in some detail how she was, how she was so glad to be alive, etc. without missing a beat. All this while the turtles were clawing to get out of their carriers on the floor at her feet, the puppy was attempting to get into her lap, and the cats were howling. When she finished, my parrot looked her square in the eye and said a long, slow, “ohhhhh” and was quiet.
Both women were so dazed that they didn’t even comment on being in “Noah’s Ark!” I have often wondered what that young lady thought about her conversation with my bird!