Birds For Dummies
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Tornado, earthquake, hurricane, fire, flood — if you were faced with any of these and had to leave your home, would you know how to help your bird? Disaster-planning experts advise you to take your pets with you when told to evacuate, but that plan isn’t as easy as it sounds.

pet Macaw 500px/Getty Images

The strikingly beautiful blue and gold macaw hails from South and Central America. With proper care, they can live 70 years or more.

Sandwiched between the idea of taking your pets with you and the reality of accomplishing a safe evacuation is a lot of thought and planning. To help you prepare for all sorts of unplanned events, this article walks you through the process of being ready for the worst — and hoping for the best.

The good news: When it comes to disasters and pets, consideration for preparedness has changed a great deal in recent years — all for the better. Once left to their own survival instincts in times of calamity, animals today are the focus of a lot of planning, with organizations in place to complement those caring for human victims.

In fact, a model program started by the California Veterinary Medical Association positions a veterinarian in each county to help coordinate animal relief efforts. Other states are starting to see the light, too, with veterinarians, shelter groups, and specially trained disaster teams from the Sacramento, California–based United Animal Nations Emergency Animal Response Service prepared to do for animals what the Red Cross does for people — on an international basis!

These positive developments are the result of a growing realization that animals need help, too, and that some people choose to put their lives in danger rather than abandon their pets.

Despite all of this progress, your bird’s chances of surviving any kind of crisis still depend mostly on you. Don’t put off preparing for the unexpected. No one likes to think about the possibility of catastrophe, but your pets are counting on you.

Consider the possibilities

Disaster preparedness starts with a simple question: What if? Ask yourself that question, and then consider not only the kind of crisis you’re most likely to face, but also special challenges such as your being away from home when disaster strikes.

People need to rely on each other during emergencies, and this fact is just as true when it comes to your pets. Get to know your neighbors and talk about how you might help each other out. Find out from local shelters and veterinary organizations what their emergency response plans are.

Veterinary connections can be tricky for bird owners. Because you need someone experienced in avian care, your veterinarian may not be located anywhere near you. Brian’s clients, in fact, come to him from all over Northern California, and some drive for hours to bring their birds to him. In a disaster, you may not have the luxury of relying on a veterinarian who’s nearby. Make sure you’re familiar with nearby veterinary hospitals, especially those offering round-the-clock and emergency care.

Keep a current list of local veterinarians willing and able to provide care or board your birds in an emergency situation. Know who’s agreeable to consulting with your regular veterinarian by telephone or online, if needed, to coordinate and possibly enhance the level of care your birds receive. Make note, too, of shops with a special interest in or focus on birds, particularly those that board birds.

A crisis isn’t always a community-wide event. When considering your options, think about what would happen if you were suddenly injured or hospitalized from a car accident, say, or a heart attack or stroke.

Make a contact list

All you really need is a sheet of paper or two, slipped into a plastic page protector you can pick up at any office-supply store. Handwrite the info or print it out from your home computer. (If you keep the master list on your computer, you can update it easily and print out a current version every so often. Beats cross-outs and erasures!)

Your wisest move is to have a list of emergency contacts to cover everything for you and your family, including your pet bird(s).

List the name, location, and phone number of your regular veterinarian, and then the same information for nearby backup hospitals and emergency clinics. Same goes for local humane societies and animal-control shelters, animal groups, and bird shops. Include friends and neighbors, as well as your local office of emergency services.

The final step: Put the list where you know you can find it (attach it to the refrigerator with a magnet, for instance). Better yet, make a few copies — one for the house, one for the car, one for work, and so on.

You can also keep this information on your phone, but having a hard copy is wise in case your battery dies.

Make sure your bird carries ID

Many birds survive disasters, but too many will never see their families again unless there’s a way to determine their identity and family connections. Although you may be lucky enough to avoid being separated from your bird, you need to be ready for that possibility. One way to contribute to a continued connection is to ensure your bird has identification.

Your bird may have a leg band already. If so, be sure to note the identifying letters and numbers. Whether your bird is banded or not, we highly recommend you have your bird microchipped. This simple procedure provides permanent identification for your beloved companion.

Make and trade bird-care files

Prepare a couple of files with up-to-date veterinary records, your bird’s microchip or leg band numbers, your veterinarian’s phone number and address, feeding and medication instructions, recent pictures of your bird, and written descriptions noting any unique markings or other physical details.

Talk to other animal-loving friends, ask them to do the same for their pets, and then trade files. The more people who know about your bird and how to care for him, the better.

Collect food and supplies

At the top of the list of disaster gear is a travel cage or carrier for any bird whose regular lodgings aren’t portable — anything bigger than a finch or budgie, in most cases. You probably already make use of a travel cage or carrier for trips to your veterinarian or for any other travel outside the home. The key, in a time of crisis, is to make sure you know where the cage is and how you can get to it easily — an emergency isn’t the time to look for a ladder or dig through junk in the basement or attic. Before an emergency strikes, make sure you can get your bird to enter the cage without a great deal of effort on your part or trauma to your bird.

Also keep a few days’ supply of food on hand, along with bottled water. Our recommendation for a pelleted diet lends itself well to feeding your bird on the run. Pack some of your bird’s favorite dried fruits, nuts, and seeds, too. Don’t forget to rotate disaster supplies on a regular basis, so they’re always fresh.

Include any medication your bird takes regularly. Get an extra supply of maintenance medication and put it in rotation — use it after your current medication runs out, and put the refill in the disaster kit. That way, your “disaster” medicine is always current. And finally: Toys! Your bird will need to take out her stress on something, and better it be toys than you or her own body.

Keep a first-aid kit fully stocked

Every bird-lover needs basic first-aid supplies packed into a neat, portable kit. Make sure the kit includes scissors, cloth towels, and paper towels. Don’t forget styptic powder for cauterizing bleeding nails or beak tips, if needed. If your kit doesn’t have a first-aid booklet, tuck one inside. Consider keeping two kits — one for home, and one for the car. It’s also a good idea to take a pet first-aid course so you’ll feel confident in the event of an emergency.

One of the problems with first-aid kits is that you’re always picking at them in everyday life — a little ointment here, some gauze there, and where did the scissors go? Be sure to promptly replace any supplies you use. Otherwise, when you really need your kit, the cupboard may be bare.

Plan, plan, plan, and practice

With your research done and your supplies assembled, the next logical step is a real plan for what to do “in case.” Design strategies for what to do if you’re home, or if you’re at work, and make sure everyone in the family knows about them — children included!

Rehearsals are a great idea. If you’ve been through something once or twice, the act has a better chance of becoming second nature — get the travel cage, get the bird, get the supplies, get everything in the car, and let’s go! A dry run can also point out any problems with your plan, which you can then remedy.

Keep your bird secure — and separate

Disasters can bring out the best in people and pets — but they can also bring out the worst. Your bird is bound to be scared, stressed, and disoriented, and he’s likely to feed off your uncertainty as well. Keep your bird secure in his travel cage, and keep handling to a minimum. Be alert to your bird’s body language — even sweet-natured pets may strike out in fear. Try to maintain as regular a schedule as possible, feeding at normal times if you can.

To help your bird maintain his good health, keep him away from other pets if at all possible, especially other birds who may be carrying heaven-knows-what diseases.

Keep a “lost bird” kit ready

The onset or aftermath of a disaster isn’t the best time to get flyers printed up, so make up some generic ones and keep them with your emergency supplies. In the biggest type size you can manage, center the words LOST BIRD, along with a clear picture of your feathered friend. Beneath that, include a description of your bird, including identifying marks or colors, and a space to add the phone number where you can be reached, as well as backup contacts, friends, relatives, neighbors, or your veterinarian. Print up a hundred copies and keep them in a safe, dry, and accessible place.

A staple gun enables you to post your notices; keep one loaded and tucked in with a supply of thumbtacks and electrical tape.

If your bird becomes lost, post flyers in your neighborhood and beyond, as well as distributing them at veterinary hospitals and shelters. Relying on the kindness of strangers is nice, but offering a reward may inspire some folks to be just a little bit kinder.

Be prepared to help others

You may survive a disaster nearly untouched, but others in your community may not be so fortunate. Contact your local humane society and veterinary organization now to train as a volunteer so you can help out in an emergency. Disaster-relief workers do everything from distributing food to stranded animals to helping reunite pets with their families — and helping find new homes for those who need them.

Not only is volunteering a good thing to do, but it’s also the right thing for anyone who cares about animals and people.

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