I spent the time leading up to hurricane Irma telling everyone reassuring things. “We’re far inland.” “We’ll be fine.” “Don’t worry about us. Worry about the people on the coast.”
Most of this was because I thought I was really prepared, but I learned a lot from going through this hurricane with cats.
The truth is we are very lucky. Our house is mostly undamaged, neither of our trees fell down, and the huge pile of shingles we found in the yard after the storm belonged to our neighbor’s roof instead of our own. Thousands here in my community are without power as I write this, a week after the hurricane struck, including dozens of my nearby neighbors. So I feel really fortunate.
I did learn some lessons from this storm and its aftermath.
Lesson 1: High-strung cats pick up your stress
Ashton, who usually installs herself on her throne on the back of the sofa when it isn’t bedtime, hovered near me through the whole storm. While I had to ask Newton and Cupcake to come in from the sunroom during the storm, she turned into an uncharacteristically clingy cat until the storm passed, then went right back to her usual routine once my stress level subsided.
Staying calm for your cats really does make a difference.
Lesson 2: Have a plan to keep cool
Our neighborhood sand hill cranes routinely peck large holes in our window screens, many of them large enough to allow a cat to escape. This meant that when the power was out, we were only able to open our sunroom windows a couple inches.
Since hurricanes happen during the hot season of the year, this can make it pretty miserable in the house. I was especially worried about Newton, who isn’t heat-tolerant, but he spent extra time on the tile floors to keep him cool. I was ready to sacrifice some of our ice to bag it up and wrap it in a towel for him so he had something cool to sit with. Thankfully, our power came on before the full summer heat returned.
Lesson 3: Have a cat food back-up plan
With three of four cats eating raw food, I made sure to put several days’ worth of food in a storage bag and bury it in the ice of our cooler. I figured our freezer would hold its temperature for two days, and I could get a few more days out after that, if necessary. That would mean I wouldn’t have to rush to get out of my neighborhood for food if some roads weren’t passable.
Our small, backup freezer crept up to 32 degrees by 24 hours without power, and by 36 hours, the freezer attached to the refrigerator had, too. By this time, my sister’s power had returned, and I was able to transfer my frozen cat food – and some human food, too – to her freezer to save it. Cupcake’s stomach doesn’t like change. I was afraid that falling back on the stored canned or freeze-dried raw food would mean stepping in vomit in the darkened house.
If we have to go through this again, I may go ahead and switch Ashton and Newton to canned or freeze-dried raw food immediately to preserve the supply of food for Cupcake and her sensitive stomach.
Lesson 4: Know your veterinary emergency options
When there’s a big storm, everyone closes. With a storm like Irma that knocked out power to 80% of our area, many businesses, including veterinarians, were unable to reopen for days after the storm had passed.
Leave it to Cupcake to make me think we were going to need to go the vet ER after everything shut down for the storm. She turned out to be fine, and I will tell the whole story on Wednesday. But we had a few minutes of wondering whether we could get her to a vet. The emergency clinic 4 miles away was shut down for the duration, and the closest open emergency vet was over 20 miles away.
When there’s a storm, make sure you know what your options are before Murphy’s Law strikes.
Lesson 5: Stick to routines as much as you can
A storm and its aftermath can cause a lot of disruption. Cats love their routines, and even when the weather is fine, they don’t like their routines upset.
Cupcake let us know she was upset about not being able to go out and visit her friends at the coffeeshop by sitting in the loaf position on the kitchen counter, a place she knows she isn’t supposed to be.
We did our best to keep kitty mealtimes at their usual times, even though it meant feeding them by flashlight. Keeping things as normal for them as possible during an abnormal time helped keep the cat stress level down, and that helped keep the human stress level down, too.
Things are returning to normal here, but we’re glad we had things we learned from it.