Anyone owning pets is going to have to plan for them in the event of a disaster. This discussion will go beyond the typical “food, water, shelter, medication” parameter. Here, we will explore how to keep pets useful in a situation which may otherwise render them a liability. Just like we repurpose material goods when they have reached the end of their intended usefulness, we can do the same with our pets, provided proper planning and training are done before difficulties arise. Opinions vary as to which pets are most popular in America, but the three constants are cats, dogs and fish, in no order. For today’s discussion, I’ll focus on the first two and also include horses.
Cats vary in usefulness during normal times, from Fluffy the declawed house cat, to Tiger the mouser in the barn. Fluffy may not be able to catch mice or other pests, but for as long as you are able to keep him fed, he may be a useful alarm system. I have three indoor/outdoor cats, and I am always impressed how they alert me when something is amiss. I have witnessed them react to a noise outside, and even growl when they are not fond of the source. When we are outside, their behavior often tells me something is off, at least to them, be it a car coming down the road, an eagle on the tree near the house, or coyotes on the hill.
Rodents will pose a significant threat in a post-collapse world; their feces contain the Hantavirus, and fleas hitching a ride spread the Plague. Rodents are voracious chewers, creating significant fire hazards if they turn their attention to electrical wiring. Where I live, there is an irrigation ditch running across the top of my property; if the local Paiute Ground Squirrels were left to their devices, the retaining barrier would fail and my home would be flooded, causing damage I would not soon be able to repair, during a survival situation. My cats have eliminated the problem, and their usefulness and role here is secure. At some point, when food runs out, Fluffy’s role as a companion may be outweighed by his need for care, notwithstanding any function he may have to alert, something dogs are known for. So, if you have both, this may be an unneeded redundancy.
Different dog breeds serve various purposes, some more useful than others during hard times. Even a small dog can provide the noise and outrage formerly reserved for the mailman to deter intruders intent on taking your supplies, or worse. Whatever breed you have, the best dog is the well-trained dog, so make sure their recall (coming to you immediately when called) is solid, as well as basic obedience. You don’t want a dog alerting you and then charging off into the night only to meet its demise. If your dog is capable of being trained for personal defense, do so, and the resources needed to keep it fed will be worth the effort. Most dogs have an innate desire to hunt; when we moved here my Labrador helped eradicate the population of feral rabbits living on the property. Dogs can pull wagons, carry packs, and keep a watchful eye when you are engaged with tasks on the property. Their companionship will also be a tremendous morale booster for the family.
A few tips on security when it comes to dogs, as their gregarious nature means it is sometimes easy to bypass their “guardian” mode. Spaying and neutering your dogs (and cats) will help prevent them from running off and/or fighting with other dogs, and it can also keep male dogs from “forgetting” their job if a bitch in heat is used to distract them. There are negatives to the procedure, certainly, but that is beyond our purposes here, other than the fact that you won’t be able to use your dogs to breed.
Your dogs’ names should be like a password, don’t share them. Obviously close friends and family won’t be excluded from this information, but your UPS driver, mail carrier, etc., need not be privy, as many dogs will let their guard down if their name is called. Make sure your dogs are trained to NEVER leave your side simply because someone else calls them. Food aversion training can keep your dog from being subject to poisoning; the methods are beyond our scope here, so research them independently. If you have firearms, desensitize your dogs to their sound; you won’t want Fido heading towards the hills if you need to discharge your gun.
Horses have played a utilitarian role in cultures around the world throughout history, so it isn’t a huge stretch to take Rocket the barrel racer, or Hans the Dutch Warmblood dressage champion and turn them into a working part of your team when the going gets rough. In addition to providing a means of travel (again, the better trained, “bombproof” breeds are best for this purpose), horses can pull wagons, sleds, and drag logs, provided they are properly trained to do so. They can be desensitized to gun fire so you can take them hunting, and be taught to drag large game behind them, as well as pack gear. If you live in a city, and board your horse, you may not have the land to make this possible, should you need to bring them home, so you will have to plan for them in this event. Such plans can include keeping them on the property of a friend who does have land, a benefit for all, and a lifesaver for the animal.
The anatomy of the horse is suited to pulling, so teaching Hans to pull a plow is an option that will serve you when fuel for tractors or rototillers is scarce. Horses are amazing lawn mowers and will keep the weeds and grass down around the home, making the area less susceptible to fire, and less hospitable to snakes and other vermin. Your family will thank you and the horse will have a steady supply of food.
As challenging as times may become, the heart-wrenching decision of destroying or abandoning your pets may be avoided if you have planned ahead. Evaluate your long-term needs, your pets’ capabilities and work on teaching them (and yourself!) skills that will benefit you and your group when life as you know it ceases to exist.