Karen and Bella Walker

With the snowiest February in history almost behind us and a couple months of winter ahead, future road closures are inevitable. Many families separate during the day with adults working in Jackson, kids at school in Star Valley and Teton Valley, and pets at home on their own.

What do you do if you can’t get back home? Who’s going to feed Fido? The importance of disaster preparedness is presented to us often, with minor hiccups in our day to day left on the back burner. The event of not being able to get back home to pets can create a lot of stress on us humans as well as the pets at home wondering where dinner is.

It happened to Karen Walker. She’s the secretary of VOAD, the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster board, on which PAWS sits. Walker understands disaster and knows to be prepared. But a Canyon/Teton Pass double closure in 2016 caught her off guard.

Walker had only recently brought her rescue dog, Bella, home from Alabama. Bella still needed potty training. They left her in her kennel when they left they house, which they only planned to do for a few hours that day.

“[My husband] had put Bella in her kennel when he left around 2 p.m., thinking we would be home by 7 p.m. at the latest.”

But then the Canyon closed. So did Teton Pass. Walker and her husband were stuck in Jackson, and Bella was stuck at home alone.

“It was a very helpless feeling,” Walker said.

Luckily, Walker was able to get ahold of her neighbor and give her the keypad code for the garage door. Walker’s neighbor was able to take care of Bella and Walker’s cat, and even feed the horse. Walker and Bella were lucky. “There were many ways that could have gone wrong,” she said.

“We didn’t have a plan. We should have.”

But as a member of the VOAD board, PAWS is all about having plans for your pets. Their Disaster Animal Response Team is trained and ready for the worst-case scenarios. But before things get that bad, it’s still important to have a plan for your pets in case weather gets the best of us. Here’s how you can plan ahead:

Dogs

Having a plan with neighbors and friends is crucial to stressful times of road closures. It helps to have multiple people on your call list, especially when it comes to inclement weather.  Having options, especially options that are close to your residence, will help get pet care checked off your list quickly. If you know snow is on the horizon, store your pup’s food, medication if necessary, and leash somewhere easily accessible and have extra water on hand in case of a power outage. It’s never a bad idea to have instructions taped to your refrigerator for if and when someone new has to come over to take care of your pets. Make sure your on-call pet care providers use leashes even if your dog typically isn’t leashed — having a dog run off or get spooked won’t help calm your nerves while stuck in Jackson, so don’t even give them that option.

Cats

When snow and cold temps are in the forecast, it’s best to keep cats indoors. Cats are better than dogs at self-regulating their food intake, so leaving them with double or triple their food allotment in times of uncertain weather won’t hurt them. Put out a couple extra bowls of water and some brain teaser toys and kitty is good to go!

Outside of road closures this winter, there are other safety topics to be aware of. Wildlife has been sticking to lower elevations due to the high snowfall this winter. In town moose and deer sightings are happening daily. Moose, especially mamas with babies, can be deadly to dogs. Use leashes when walking in town and avoid any area with moose close by. Dogs like to chase deer… into the roads regardless of oncoming traffic. Keep your pups close so they don’t get hit, the deer don’t get hit, and us humans don’t get into car accidents trying to avoid the animals.

Also, avalanche danger has fluctuated between considerable and high with natural avalanches occurring on Teton Pass often. If you have a pup that enjoys skiing and are venturing into the backcountry on a high danger, day leave them behind. They don’t have the proper knowledge, plan-making skills, and equipment like us humans do.