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The holidays are traditionally a time to get together with family and friends. And for many of us, our "family" includes our pets. You might even be adding a new pet to your household this winter, or just spending time cuddled up on cold nights with your animal companions.
But the holidays are also a time when unfortunate accidents can and do happen. Winter weather makes our roads more dangerous, and holiday candles and Christmas lights cause hundreds of house fires each year.
The recent hurricanes brought disaster preparedness for pets into the headlines, and the tragic stories of the pets left behind to die got me thinking about what happens to pets who die suddenly. We've all heard stories of human ghosts who remain on the earth plane because they simply don't realize they're dead. That made me wonder if the same is sometimes true for pets.
Dr. Monica Diedrich has a gift for communicating with animals, including the spirits of those who have crossed over to the spirit world. In her book What Animals Tell Me, she explains that animals do indeed have souls, and they too pass into spirit when their time on earth is over. Many of the stories in her book describe the pain of losing a beloved pet, or the anguish of deciding if euthanasia is the best option. Her book is filled with inspiring tales of pets who wanted their "parents" to know that they were happy on the other side, and not to worry that they did something wrong. She believes that animals know when it's their time to leave. But when that time comes, it may not always be easy for us to understand. Her book is of interest to anyone who loves animals, and especially helpful to those who are concerned about a pet's health or behavior, or are grieving the loss of a companion.
Hopefully you will never lose a pet in a natural disaster or another tragic circumstance. But the unfortunate truth is that these things can happen and do happen—often without much warning. You may not live where hurricanes are possible, but what about earthquakes? Floods? Tornadoes? Fire? Do you know where everything you'd need for your pets is located, in case you had to leave your home in a hurry?
A few years ago I had an experience that reminded me how important it really is to have a plan. In October 2001 I moved into a seventh-floor apartment in a high-rise building. Since the tragedy of September 11 had occurred only weeks before my move, I was acutely aware that I needed to have a plan in case I ever needed to get out of my building quickly. Just six months later, I woke one Sunday morning to the sound of an alarm. I thought that it must be the fire alarm, but since I'd never heard it before and the time was exactly on the hour, I dismissed it as a test. After a few minutes of waiting for them to turn the alarm off, I got out of bed and looked out the window. To my horror, I saw flames shooting out of an apartment on the third floor, rising all the way up past the fifth floor.
In any other apartment, my cat carriers would have been locked down in the storage area of my building, awaiting the next trip to the vet or to visit my parents. But since I'd planned on what to do in case of a fire or other disaster, I had them in the closet right by the door. In the few minutes it took to quickly dress, put the cats in the carriers, and grab my coat and folder of important documents, the fire had grown so powerful that all I could see out the window was grey smoke. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured. But this experience really drove the point home: it can happen anywhere, and it can happen to you.
Here are a few simple things you can do to help keep your pet safe. First, have your pet microchipped. In the event that your pet escapes or is lost in an evacuation, any animal shelter will pick up the chip and immediately contact you.
If your pet travels in a carrier, keep the carrier easily accessible and stored near a door. In the event that you would be away from your home for a few days, keep a supply of canned pet food near the carriers (and make sure to periodically check the expiration dates).
Make copies of your pet's medical records, including their vaccinations. Should you need to rent temporarily, many landlords will ask for verification that your pet is up to date on his or her shots. Store these copies in or near the rest of your supplies, or mail a copy to a trusted friend or family member.
There are many other things you can do to make sure that both you and your pets are prepared in case of emergency. The Humane Society, PETA, and many other animal organizations have much more detailed information available on their web sites. You can also call them for more information if you do not have access to the Internet.
After you've made sure you're ready for anything the Universe throws your way, you might want to just sit back and read some heartwarming animal stories. Another great animal-related read is Psychic Pets & Spirit Animals, a compilation of amazing true tales from the files of FATE Magazine. From animal ESP to mysterious animal protectors, this book will delight anyone with a soft spot for animals of all shapes and sizes.
Animals give us so much joy and love, and in return all they expect from us is tender love and care. The bond between people and their pets is truly special. Hopefully you will never need to evacuate your home, but since even the best psychics can't predict everything about the future, please make sure that you and your pets are prepared.