Most of us leave home each day planning to be back in time for dinner. But in the wake of September 11, Hurricane Katrina, and now the recent onslaught of tornados and flooding, we realize that we are woefully unprepared to deal with disaster, especially where our pets are concerned. There is no way to plan for every possible scenario, but a few simple steps taken now may mean the difference between life and death for the pets that are locked in your house, depending on you each day.

A. Carry a note in your wallet regarding emergency care of pets. Wrap it around your identification card or your insurance card. Sample: I have [number and type of pets] in my home. In any situation in which I am unable to return home, such as my hospitalization or death, please immediately call [Mary Smith] at [address and phone] or [John Doe] at [address and phone] to arrange for the feeding of my pets located at my home at [address]. My Executor [name, address, phone] and my neighbor [name, address, phone] have a copy of this document.

B. Familiarize at least three people outside of your household with your pet care protocol: neighbors, friends, family, pet sitters. Be sure that these people have up-to-date written instructions as well as a key to your house. If possible, try to make arrangements with at least one person who could take your pets into their home if necessary. Make sure that these people can contact one another in case back up is needed. It is suggested that you sign a letter that releases these helpers from responsibility should one of your pets become injured and sign a veterinary medical treatment authorization form as well.

C. Place stickers on your front and back house doors, alerting rescue personnel as to how many pets are on the premises. Include an emergency contact phone number and the location of your written instructions.

D. Write detailed instructions for your pet’s care. These should not only be clear to your designated pet sitters, but also to strangers who might have to enter your house in an emergency. Place them in a prominent place, by the telephone and on the refrigerator. These instructions should include:

1. Feeding information: What do they eat? How much? How often? Where is the food kept? Be sure that food containers are clearly labeled, and that feeding instructions are repeated on the containers. Where do the pets normally eat?

2. Watering instructions: Where is water normally provided? Where is emergency water stored?

3. Medications: What? How much? How often? Where are medications kept?

4. Written description of each pet: How many of each species? How would a stranger identify them? Where would they normally be found? Where would they likely hide if frightened? Would any of them be likely to pose a danger to strangers?

5. Location of evacuation supplies (leashes, carriers)

6. Location of medical records

7. Name, address and phone number of your pre-arranged pet sitters

8. Name, address and phone number of your veterinarian

9. Detailed directions to your home (in case you are in a state of panic and in need of rescue, or someone unfamiliar with your area must call for help)

E. Make arrangements for long-term pet care. A lawyer should always be consulted when deciding how to provide for the care of your pets in the event of your death. Important issues to consider:

1. Even if you provide for your pets in your will, it can take weeks or months for the will to be probated. Short-term arrangements should be in place with friends. Your executor should be privy to these arrangements and have instructions for reimbursing expenses through the estate.

2. Some states will not permit a pet owner to leave any part of his or her estate directly to an animal. Alternatives might be conditional bequests, in which both the pet and a sum of money are left to a beneficiary, or honorary trusts, in which trustees named by the pet owner can use funds in the trust to care for the animal.

3. Caretakers designated in a will should be notified in advance, as they will have all the rights and responsibilities of ownership of the pet. It is advisable to name alternate caretakers in the will, in case the first-named person is unable or unwilling to take care of the pet when the time comes.

4. Be sure that your executor knows of your plans!