11 Ways To Help Stray Cats, Dogs, & Other Animals During Hurricane Matthew

As the Eastern seaboard braces for a direct hit by Hurricane Matthew, it's essential that everyone who lives in the area expected to be affected gets themselves out of harm's way and does everything that they can to protect themselves and their families. However, people aren't the only ones who experience the effects of these sorts of natural disasters. Animals are also very much at risk, and there are many ways that you can help stray animals before, during, and after Hurricane Matthew.

Animals' main disadvantage during events like these is that they don't know what's going on, so they can't heed the warnings. Even the most loving and caring pet owners sometimes lose their animals under these extreme circumstances simply because the animal flee, taking what its instincts tell it is the best course of action. We all remember the tragic stories in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when hundreds of pets went missing and people were unable to find (and sometimes even unable to reclaim) them.

Even with Matthew rapidly approaching, however, there are things you can do to prepare and knowledge that you can arm yourself with, just in case you run into a stray cat or dog yourself in the coming days. Here are 11 things you can do to help strays before, during, and after Hurricane Matthew sweeps through your area.

1. The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

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If you have a pet yourself, prepare for what might be a tough time with a pet emergency kit. Stock up several days' worth of food, and gather blankets, toys, and other comforting objects to try to calm your dog or cat down in case the weather gets loud and frightening for them. Get together your pet's medical records, and make sure you've got its collar securely on. This is probably a given, but make sure you have have a recent picture of yourself with your pet, just in case you have to prove ownership.

2. Prepare For Feral Animals, Too

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If you ever take care of feral animals in your community, help them prepare for the storm too in any way you can. Set up a potential shelter on high ground, and leave extra dry food there. Make a list with pictures of the cats who live there so that you can help identify them in case they end up at shelters in the aftermath. If there are any friendly cats or kittens who are still young enough to be socialized (under about 14 weeks), now is a great time to safely capture them and take them to a safe place.

3. Don't Assume Someone Else Will Help

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If you see an animal in danger (swimming in flood waters, for example, or trapped in the middle of a street), consider it your responsibility to help it if at all possible. You don't know when the next person will come along, how long the animal has been lost or struggling, and how much gas it's got left in the tank. Once you see a stray, you have the chance to save its life.

4. Try To Check Whether It's Feral Or Stray

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A feral animal is an animal that was born in the wild and lives independently. A stray is a domestic animal that has lost its home. If it's feral, an animal will generally resist your advances, as it's not used to people at all. It's also very likely that a feral animal won't be spayed or neutered. A stray will probably be very frightened, but if you approach it calmly, it will eventually be willing to cooperate with you. Figuring this out will help you figure out how to help the animal afterwards.

5. Keep Yourself Safe

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Remember, the animal is going to be frightened, and it might lash out. Approach it slowly, carefully, and calmly, speaking in gentle tones and not trying to touch it until it has decided to come closer to you by choice or otherwise signaled to you that it won't scratch or bite you. Natural disasters offer an excellent breeding ground for several viruses and bacteria, and you don't want to put yourself through that.

6. Shoulder Full Responsibility — If You Can

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Once you pick up an animal, recognize that you are the one best positioned to take care of it. You might need to pay vet bills if it's sick or injured, take care of it for an extended period of time, and then return it to its owner if the owner can be found. If you don't feel able to take on that responsibility, it's best for you to take the animal directly to a shelter.

7. If It's Injured, Go To A Vet Right Away

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If the animal has a few scratches, you can probably fix it up with a first aid kit (but only if you feel comfortable doing that!). If it's anything more serious than that, you need to take it to the vet right away. And remember, good veterinary care can be expensive, so be prepared to pay for the animal's care yourself.

8. Take Care Of The Animal And Make It Comfortable

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If you can take the animal directly home, make sure you have a cozy place for it. This will help a lot with the fear and sense of disorientation that it must be experiencing. Give it food and water, but don't force it to eat. Your first priority in terms of care, however, is notifying animal control that you found a stray, and telling them about any forms of identification it might have.

9. Put Out Ads Everywhere You Can

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This animal might be someone's pet, and that person might be frantically looking for it. Put out ads on Facebook, on Craigslist, on telephone poles, in the newspaper, and everywhere else that you can think of.

10. Follow The Golden Rule

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The golden rule applies here and everywhere else. If someone found your lost pet, what would you want them to do? Think about that, and do exactly that for the lost pet that you've found yourself. Remember, part of that is preparing for the moment you have to give the animal up if you're able to find its owner.

11. Donate To Your Local Animal Shelter

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If you're just not in a position to help a stray animal yourself, that's totally fine and completely understandable. However, if you still want to do something to ensure that animals affected by Hurricane Matthew get the care they need, the best way to do that is to donate as much as you can to your local animal shelter, ASPCA, or any other organization working to help them. After Hurricane Sandy, celebrity chef Rachael Ray donated $500,000 to help local displaced animals. That's probably out of your budget, but even $10 or $20 could help provide a frightened animal with a good meal and a cozy blanket.