We probably shouldn’t be using the word “disaster” quite so casually. Probably, we should try to avoid uttering it in the drive-through line at Burger King or at the moment we lift the lid on a washing machine. Disasters can range from tame to catastrophic, from a fender bender to a terrorist attack. One thing they all have in common is that—even if someone (or everyone) saw this coming—no one believed it actually would. Because of this limitation in the human imagination, we can not adequately prepare for emergencies without consulting a checklist prior to any sign of trouble. Here are a few checklist items that will help you protect your family pet when unexpected circumstances arise.

Lost dogs and cats are a dreadfully commonplace scenario which, somehow, no one imagines will strike their household. Please, please take my advice and prepare for this in advance: each pet should have a microchip placed by your veterinarian and accurate information on file in the associated database. The procedure is easy, low stress, and quite inexpensive, usually involving a one-time fee; however, most animal owners never give it a second glance. Many more will get the microchip implanted (even paying the fee), then neglect to complete their pet’s entry in the company database, or else fail to keep that information current. Chips are well worth the effort and minor up-front cost; I assure you that the grief will be catastrophic if your pet is separated from you and can not be identified. To be safe, even chipped animals should wear a collar or harness with visible ID tags. Obviously, not everyone has a microchip scanner.

Take a current photo of each pet and print it out for an emergency packet. A hard copy of your pet’s medical record is very useful in many scenarios that fall far short of “disaster”. You should definitely have this on hand for any unexpected trips to the emergency clinic. (Reminder: every trip to the emergency clinic is unexpected!) Always take the packet with you on vacation. If you become separated from your pet or need to seek care from a clinic in a different state, you will be fully prepared. If, on the other hand, your animal stayed behind at a boarding kennel, you’ll be ready to answer any urgent calls from that facility. It’s not a bad idea to store this data on your phone as well—but in a folder that is instantly accessible, not buried in between 9,000 other images. Remember that a hard copy can be viewed even when your devices are too weak to function.

Find a trustworthy friend or neighbor to hold your house key. Even a minor emergency may keep you away too long for your animals’ safety and comfort. This person could stop by to feed and water or even evacuate your pets if something happens to the structure in your absence.

Go—take these easy measures now, so you can buckle up for our next piece on “SHTF” disasters and how to be ready for something a bit more intense.

Dr. M.S. Regan