Coping with an emergency

Trevor Turner, B. Vet. Med., MRCVS

First published in May/June 2006 Edition

Be it fire, flood, storm or other public emergency, emergency procedures could involve evacuation. Have you ever thought of this in respect of kennels?

I have, for no other reason than my experience with security briefings at Crufts, the Supreme and National Cat Shows and other large, animal-attended events where such eventualities are considered.

As far as these are concerned, public safety has to come first and even in the PDSA leaflet on "Pets and Floods" it is stressed: "Never put your own or another human life in danger to save an animal".

This is one reason why there are repeated warnings at large dog shows, advising exhibitors never to leave dogs unattended on benches. Practically, it is highly unlikely, in the case of emergency evacuations, that owners will be allowed to return to their bench to collect their dogs, as was put to me at Discover Dogs, "It is then over to you, Trevor." Animal Evacuation Strategies

The evacuation of a collection of dogs or cats restrained either in kennels, or on benches and in pens at shows, would, irrespective of the reason, be a massive undertaking. Obviously it would depend on the severity of the risk, how imminent the danger etc. and the availability of "handlers", be they kennel personnel or owners at a show.

One has to bear in mind that at the majority of cat shows in this country exhibitors and members of the public are excluded while the main classes are judged, which usually means until about midday. In such a situation, in the event of an emergency evacuation, can you envisage security personnel allowing owners back in to evacuate their own animals, so to speak? In large kennels, particularly out of working hours, in the middle of the night for example, with limited or non-existent staff, would it be possible to put a lead on every dog and every cat in its container and take it to safety.

In any case, what is safety? Where is the safe haven? Even if you have only a dozen boarders, where are you going to put them? Our emergency procedures at the veterinary hospital involved letting the dogs out into a secure outdoor compound, which is fine in the case of fire but what happens if it is an emergency requiring evacuation of the site? Unpalatable though it may be, practically it may be the safest solution to leave the dogs and cats where they are. Can you imagine the effect of this on their owners? But what is the alternative? In the case of more specific emergencies there may be more time and the evacuation plan may be more localised. In the case of flooding it may be possible to temporarily house animals above the flood line but on the other hand it may not

Having had experience of partial evacuation in the case of storms, I could face that problem again with possibly more optimism than the other emergency situations. When a tree fell on a relatively new block of kennels, the emergency in that particular case was the risk of escape and all we had to do was move about six or seven boarders; of course it had to be in the middle of the night and at the busiest time of the year but as I have written in these columns before, it was always my policy to leave at least 10% of our accommodation available when we were officially "full to capacity".

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