Rescue 101: Planning – Preparing for Emergencies or Closing

A dwarf hamster

Part of being a responsible rescuer is planning for the worst case scenarios to make sure your animals will be safe.

It’s never a pleasant thing to imagine, but part of being a responsible rescuer is having some idea of what you would do in a state of emergency to protect yourself and your animals. There are a variety of scenarios you will want to consider, such as having to relocate all of the animals because of a fire or natural disaster, being temporarily or permanently disabled by an accident, or having to close down your rescue due to a lack of time or funding. Having a game plan of what you will need to do to respond to these kind of dire situations will help get you some peace of mind if you ever have to face them.

Natural Disasters and Emergency Relocation

In the event of a natural disaster, you may have little to no time to relocate the animals under your care. Let’s say that the scenario you are facing is that a fire has broken out in the area, you’ll need to be able to get your animals contained and in to a vehicle to get them and the humans in your household to safety right away. In this kind of difficult scenario you won’t have much if any advance warning and will need to be able to respond right away to save as many lives as possible.

There are several things that can help put you in a better situation if you are faced with this kind of disaster. Having enough carriers or restraints for the type of animals you are working with is important, and it’s equally important that they are located relatively near to where the animals are being housed. If you are keeping animals in small cages or enclosures, you might be able to pick up the whole habitat and remove it from the house. Run through the emergency scenario with the other members of your household or anyone in the immediate area who might be helping you in the event of an emergency so that they know where to find the supplies and how to remove the animals quickly.

You can also have an equipped box of emergency supplies, such as basic first aid supplies along with enough food and watering devices for the animals you will need to remove, in case you are not able to return to your property immediately. If you are using dry food, this can be even something that you keep in the trunk of your car so that it is one less thing to carry out in the event of an emergency.

You can also talk to your local emergency response departments, such as the fire department, to ask them if there is signing that you can use to indicate what types of animals are located in your house. This will give your animals a better chance at being rescued by emergency responders if you are not able to go back in to your home for safety reasons.

Once you’ve dealt with the idea of getting all of the animals out, you’ll need to think about where you would go with the animals that you have. If you have a network of foster homes, it’s likely that you will be able to reach out to your volunteers and ask them all to take on a few extra animals until you are able to secure new safe housing for you and your fosters. If you have a good relationship with your local shelters or animal control agencies, they may be able to offer you temporary housing space until you are able to recover. Get an idea of what resources you have before you need to call on them.

Loss of Housing or Rental Space

A natural disaster isn’t the only thing that can result in you having to leave your home. If you are a home owner and your property is foreclosed on, or if you are a renter and your landlord’s rental property is foreclosed on, you might find yourself needing to relocate again. In this type of scenario you’ll have more advance warning to know what is happening and be able to take more gradual steps to make sure that you and your animals are going to be OK during the transition between spaces.

The first thing to do if you find out that your location is going to be compromised or you will have to leave is to stop intake of animals in to your rescue. The less animals you have to care for when it comes time to relocate you and your belongings, the easier on everyone it will be. This could be a very busy and stressful time for you, and you need to make sure that you have the mobility to do what you need to do so that you can become stable enough to help the animals and continue your rescue work. If you are facing a foreclosure, you may be having to make plans to downsize your living situation and become a renter. If you are already a renter who is having to relocate because of your landlord’s issues, it may take you longer to find another rental situation that is going to be accepting of you operating your rescue program on their property.

This is another scenario where having your foster homes take on an extra few animals can be a reasonable temporary solution to your housing problems with the animals. Since all of your supplies will be in flux as you are packing and moving, you may also consider dropping any adoption events or activities that would require you to travel for your rescue work until you are settled safely in a new location.

Medical Emergencies or Death

Probably the least pleasant thing to consider is what would happen with your rescue in the event of your hospitalization or demise, but it’s another important thing to consider as you’ll have a lot of animals counting on you for their survival and well-being. If you were hospitalized and unable to care for the animals, either temporarily or permanently, would there be someone able to step in and take your place?

Even if you operate your rescue out of your home and don’t have animals at other locations, one practice that can help in the event of a medical emergency is keeping labels on animal cages or enclosures, and having more detailed records in a predictable and accessible place. For example, at one time North Star Rescue was split between two main foster homes that handled the majority of the animals that came in to the rescue, and the human members of each household knew they were responsible for stepping in if anything happened to disable the person running the other home. This meant we kept labels on cages to make it easy for someone to identify, with no one there to tell them, which animals were housed where and what medications they were currently on (if any) so that their care wouldn’t be compromised.

If you have a will or other document to provide to your loved ones or a responsible party in the event that something happens to you, you can leave notes about resources for those people to contact in the event that your animals need help. While working with North Star Rescue, I found myself getting a phone call from the family members of a person who had supported our rescue in the past who had passed away unexpectedly, leaving his rats on the other side of the country from his family who might be able to care for them. Thanks to the fact that he had provided them with a will and information, they were able to get in contact with me and my rescue group so that the rats could get immediate care and wouldn’t be left on their own.

In the event that you are either sick, injured, or pass away and won’t be able to return to your rescue work, you’ll need to have a reasonable plan in place for how your rescue will close down without you being present. This may mean having foster homes who agree to take on the remaining animals that were in your care and work to place them in new homes before your program is officially closed. It may also mean having preferred shelter or rescue partners who can help intervene to make sure the animals are safe when you can no longer care for them.

Closing Down Your Rescue

Hopefully your rescue will grow and operate for many years to come, but part of being a responsible rescuer is making sure that you have plans to protect your animals even in the situation that you can no longer be the one to provide them. There are many reasons that a rescue might have to close. I have seen rescuers who simply get too busy with their family or other major life changes, like having children or having to care for elderly family members. I have seen rescues who have had to close because they can’t stay afloat financially. You might find the work is too stressful for you, or that you’d feel better contributing to animal welfare in a different way than operating your rescue. You might develop a medical condition that precludes you from working in the same capacity with animals. No matter the scenario, you’ll need to have some idea of what you are going to do to close down.

If you have an official corporation, non-profit, or other business type, there may be paperwork you will need to file to certify that you are closing and going out of business. In the case of non-profit organizations, many will spell out in their by-laws where the additional funding (if any) will be dispersed to another qualified non-profit group in the event they close down. If you are not an official non-profit, you may want to consider dispersing funds and equipment to another comparable charity that will be able to benefit from the boost of your additional supplies and equipment.

If you have to close down, it would be ideal if you were able to make the decision with enough time to place all or the majority of your animals in new homes. Consider talking to potential adopters during this time to let them know since your rescue will no longer be operating that you won’t be able to accept returns of animals, and provide them with alternate resources like the contact information for other rescue organizations or shelters that might be able to help if they can’t keep their animals. It’s a good idea to continue to collect adoption fees to deter people who might be looking for a cheap or free animal for unscrupulous purposes, but you can offer additional incentives to adopters such as discounts on equipment that you will no longer be needing.

When you begin to close, reach out to your rescue partners, shelters or any other animal related groups that you have worked with to see which ones might be able to provide space in their programs for any animals you might not have been able to place. This will give them time to prepare and give you an idea of what you might be able to expect in help from them, as you won’t want to wait until the last-minute to find out there is no other safe haven for your animals to be sent to.

You made it to the end of the planning series!

We’ve covered a lot of ground just in the planning series Alma Rodentia’s Rescue 101 blog now, everything from mission statements to business structures and more. It might seem overwhelming at first, but remember your planning stage is just where you are laying the foundation for your rescue’s future and taking time to consider each aspect will leave you much better prepared when you have a variety of work and new situations facing you. Stay tuned to the Alma Rodentia blog for more in the Rescue 101 series as I’ll be continuing to cover many other facets of rescue work to help both new and existing rescuers strengthen their programs.

About Lauren Paul

Lauren is the founder of North Star Rescue, a non-profit organization in California’s San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the rescue and welfare of companion pet rodents. Lauren operates Alma Rodentia, a website featuring an online store for pet rodents and their humans and a blog about rescue and life with pet rodents.

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