Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What Hurricane Irma taught me about dogs, disasters

It's 2 a.m. and 89 degrees in the house. I'm stripped down to my underwear, "The Crown" is on my tablet to try and distract me from my discomfort at the heat and humidity, the darkness and the otherwise silence of my powerless home.

What I can't distract myself from is the sound of Lulu's breathing.

It's faster than usual, and her chest is heaving up and down quickly. She's not panting, just breathing heavily.

I rub her chest and "arm pits" with a damp rag in the hope of keeping her comfortable.

Jasmine tries to stay cool. She handled the lack of AC better than Lulu.
But I'm resolved. Tomorrow, they all go to my parents' house, even if I hate to do an overnight trip and rush back to work.

Their discomfort is more upsetting to me than anything else about this situation. It's early Thursday morning, Sept. 14. I've been without power since Sunday, Sept. 10, when Hurricane Irma hit Orlando and the rest of Florida.

And I won't have power again until Sept. 19.
Keeping the dogs cool was tougher without power.
Lulu poolside two days after Hurricane Irma. Debris could be cleaned out, but without power I had no filter for over a week. The pool turned quite green.
I'm lucky, I really am. There are people in Florida and Texas and Louisiana and the Caribbean who have it a lot worse. One beagle breeder friend in South Florida had to leave a flooded home. Other friends waited for days before they heard from loved ones in Puerto Rico.

But I learned a lot about myself, and about dogs, in a disaster, in the days after Hurricane Irma.

DISCLOSURE: I received Fresh Wave and One Fur All products from those companies. I received no monetary compensation for this post. All opinions are my own.

1. Have a plan -- but be ready for it to change.

Hurricane Irma was originally expected to come right up the center of the state. That put me in the center, with my parents in the Tampa area to the left of the eye... which, even if the winds were bad, was not a bad place to be in a storm.

I say goodbye to Lulu and Jasmine the Thursday before Hurricane Irma.
Remember, if you have to be in a hurricane, you never want to be in the upper right quadrant of a hurricane. That's where the worst winds and the greatest potential for tornadoes is, because of the storm's rotation.

So on Thursday, I had all three pets -- Lulu, Jasmine and Galadriel -- packed up. My Dad came and took them home. I had to stay, I had to work. But there was a chance I would not make it back home for days -- I wanted my kids cared for. So Dad took one for the team and made the drive up.

Then, before he was even home, there was a mandatory evacuation for their home. The storm seemed to be shifting west. Flooding and storm surge were now a concern on the coast.

By Friday, Hurricane Irma was projected to make landfall as a category three storm just south of Tampa. I got a call at 8:30 a.m.
Dad: We're coming to you.
Me: You better be!
So now my home would have four people (Mom, Dad, my brother and my niece. I'd be sleeping at work during Irma, no joke), five dogs (my two, plus my parents' Cappy, Buster and Reagan) and four cats in it (My Galadriel, Mom's Mischief and Tiana and my niece's cat Toothless).  Oy.

And then -- the storm decided to come up the center of the state after all! So while the north Tampa area, where my parents live, saw lots and lots of damage and flooding, it could have been worse. Both my parents and my brother and niece had power when they got home and just some tree branches down.

Lucky them.

So don't just be ready for one situation, be ready for multiple situations. Hurricanes can be fickle. And in the case of this one, it was so large that there really was nowhere to run, except north.

  1. So know your home. 
  2. Know ahead of time if your home can sustain a hit from a powerful storm. 
  3. Prepare your property. 
  4. Know the safest place to go in your home. 
  5. Know the safest place to go if your home is no longer safe. 
  6. Make sure they can take pets! 
2. Buy a generator, part 1 -- air conditioning.

I know better, I work in news. But no, I don't have a generator. And it never occurred to me that I could lose power for over a week. See, we get complacent too. 

But pets don't handle the heat as well as us humans, as I've written before. So get a generator. If it's not strong enough to power an air conditioner, it will be strong enough to power a fan. A fan will keep the air circulating in your home. 

I didn't have that option. So I opened the windows as much as possible. And since I didn't work until the afternoon, I took the dogs on car trips to get them out of the heat as much as I could. Then, I would come home on my break with fresh ice for their water.

Lulu is much happier in Petco's air conditioning -- plus she got treats.
And remember, generators need to stay outside, 20 feet from the home!!!

3. Buy all the cooling things for your dogs! 

The dogs had a cooling mat they could lay on to help them deal with the heat. I got a Good2Go mat from Petco, but there are other brands as well. There are also harnesses, bandanas and other things you can buy to give your dogs some relief from the heat. And you can use them throughout the summer too. 

I made sure they had bowls of ice in their water (no, ice won't give them gas, and it's perfectly fine for them!). I also would freeze containers of water at work and bring them home with  me. 

Amazingly, Galadriel seemed fine. I probably could have left her at home the whole time. Cats find the cooler places, I'm told. Don't know how true this is.

4. Dogs and cats are more resilient and forgiving than we give them credit for. 

No air conditioning at home sucks but, hey, car rides, ammirite?
I'm not saying this to make you think you don't have to worry about your pet in the aftermath of a hurricane. I'm saying this so that if you over worry like I do, you might set your mind at ease. Your pets can sense your stress, and they need less of that in their lives. 

Be vigilant and be ready to act when you need to, but don't drive yourself mad. You need a level head in these situations -- your pets will be fine. They are with you, they trust you to make good decisions for them. 

5. Be ready to bug out if you need to.

That Thursday after the storm, I packed up everyone again and took them to my parents' house. I came back to work Friday, then went back home Saturday and Sunday. I had hoped I'd have power by then. No such luck. 

Lulu at in my parents' backyard.
When I came back to work Monday, I still had no power at home. At that point, I had a small breakdown and decided to get a hotel room. I'd had enough, and I was even more uncomfortable being in the house without the dogs to alert me if someone was prowling around. 

If you find yourself in a disaster situation like this one, this time around FEMA provided funds for hotel rooms. I don't know if they'll always do that, but look for that. Also, hotels in your area might still be offering hurricane rates. I stayed at the Rosen Plaza on International Drive in Orlando, for the hurricane rate of $79 a night. And they take pets too. Some of their less swanky hotels were cheaper, but dammit if I was going to stay in a hotel I wanted a little pampering! 

So always check the hotels in your area before a storm to see what they are offering. Some normally non-pet friendly hotels even allowed pets, like (GASP) Disney resort hotels!!

6. Buy a generator -- Part 2.

So I get to my house Tuesday and I realize my porch lights are on.

Cue the Hallelujah Choir!

Then I opened the door. P-U.

Then I walked into the dining room. And the smell got worse. 

And I stepped into the kitchen. And I opened the fridge. Which my parents and brother had left full of food when they went home after Irma.

7. I would never make it as a forensic investigator. 

You see, I couldn't get to my special county-issued garbage cans because they were in the garage, which I couldn't open. So I couldn't empty the fridge or the freezer. So it all sat there... for days. And despite my efforts to keep more ice than food in the freezer, it seems some of my ice containers had been removed. 

I made sure the kitchen disposal worked with the help of my recently-eaten breakfast.

Once I managed to get everything out and wiped down, I still had a horrific smell (think rotting sauerkraut). 

8. Pet odor products do amazing work.

Fresh Wave products help neutralize bad odors, and worked wonders after Hurricane Irma.
Fresh Wave Odor Removing Gel, which I got at BlogPaws.
Shout out to a couple great products that have helped me with that pungent aroma:
  • Fresh Wave -- I bought a Fresh Wave fresh pod for the air conditioning filter and clipped that on. The company had provided me with sample products at BlogPaws 2017, and I used them with reckless abandon in the kitchen. They really did help neutralize the smell in there and the dining room.
  • One Fur All - This Florida-based company makes candles and other products meant to neutralize pet odors. Well One Fur All helped cut through whatever else we were smelling in the home. My house smells of pumpkin spice only now, thank God! I use the wax melts in my Scentsy burners. It really does the trick.
  • Good old Arm and Hammer -- I bought two boxes of the fridge and freezer deodorizer. My fridge is so much better now.
One Fur All comes in a wide array of scents.
A display of One Fur All Wax Melts at Global Pet Expo. 
9. A home is not a home without a pet.

Lulu and Jasmine snuggle up in their own bed for the first time since Hurricane Irma.
I think we all know that, but there is nothing like a hurricane and days apart in an uncertain situation to make you remember it. I was never more stressed or lonely than when I was without one of these three by my side. 

You never know when something can happen to turn your world upside down. Make sure you're ready. Make sure your pets are ready too.

Head to to help create a plan.

They're all very happy to be home!


  1. Thank goodness for blogpaws swag. I have been your situation except it was in the middle of winter.
    I cannot imagine the smell of summer rot.

    Hopefully everything is back to normal now.

    1. Seriously, thank goodness for all that bloggy stuff! And yeah -- that was... a new experience.

  2. So glad you and the pets are safe. This is a great article that highlights some of the commonly omitted problems after natural disasters. I feel like it is so easy to forget about simple things - like rotting food in the fridge. Thanks for the article.

  3. I'm glad to hear the you, your family, and your pets are safe. You and your family were so strong. Thank you for sharing your insight and reminding us that being prepared (including generators and back -up plans) means less stress and worry in the long run. Take care.

  4. Fabulous post. Here in Vermont we complain about a 3 foot snowstorm but I'll take that any day over a hurricane. You've covered issues and solutions that people might not even think about when faced with disaster. Let's hope what you learned you never have to put into place again!

    1. Seriously! But unfortunately I think we'll be seeing more storms in the next few years.

  5. I'm glad you are all safe. I was so worried about all of our Facebook and blogging friends in the affected areas. I need a better prearedness plan, that's for sure.

  6. Wow! Firstly, I'm so glad you and your entire family are safe. I certainly felt for you all when watching the news. In Ontario, we experience short term power outages, ice storms, and tornados. We bought a back up generator in case of power outages and will definitely make sure the fridge/freezer is plugged in. I wouldn't cut it as a forensic scientist either. Great information, thank you!

    1. Thanks! I think the fridge situation was the worst of it!

  7. Wow, that must have been so stressful, especially worrying about the pets. I'm glad you got a little pampering in, you definitely deserved some comfort.

  8. It sounds like you needed a Plan A, B and C to get through this experience. Thank you for your insight into all of the confusion brought on by this hurricane.

  9. Thank for sharing all of your experiences and insight. You've given me quite the list of topics to discuss with my SO Matthew as we continue to revise our evacuation plans. Also, as a first time visitor, I love how color coordinated your three pets are. They are adorable!

  10. So glad to hear everyone is okay. Hurricane Irma was really scary. I was even concerned about the possibly of needing to evacuate in SC.

  11. Wow - I am just so glad that you, your animals and your family are all ok now. The damage in Florida was so wide-spread and so many were affected by Hurricane Irma - everytime I saw that one of my Facebook or blogging friends were safe - I breathed a sigh of relief. Even tho here Kansas the most we are ever bothered by is the occasional tornado with maybe some flooding or an ice storm, I still need to make up a disaster preparedness bag at least for Lady Shasta and Miss Maizie plus a few things for me.

    I just don't know how you dealt with it all - especially once you returned to work with no electricity in the house - especially in Florida. So glad to read that you, Lulu, Jasmine and Galadriel are all back together again.
    Oh and thank goodness for that swag you picked up at BlogPaws - that is one of the things I am looking forward to next year in Kansas City.

  12. Oh boy. I'm happy for you and your family that no one suffered severe catastrophic damage. I can relate. I survived hurricane Sandy in NY and was without power for 1/2 month. Thank goodness your babies did pretty well. Hotel is definitely a good option. And it's great all that Blog Paws swag came in handy!

  13. So glad everyone is okay and safe. Watching the news about Hurricane Irma was so disheartening. That must have been so stressful and you're so right to be prepared especially when you have pets.

  14. I am so glad you and the pets are safe now. We have lost power for a day or two in big storms or other emergencies and it is not fun. You just forget how much you depend on it for everything (even toilets). Great recap on being prepared and flexible. I am glad the Rosen offered a good deal and is pet friendly (it's very nice I know from walking through at Global).

  15. Oh heck of a drama for you. I know it was a challenge but thank heavens the dogs were alright. I know you would never rest until you knew they were OK and I am so glad it worked out.

    This is a fabulous disaster preparedness post. I had better go share!!


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