Disasters often force us to leave our homes or cities on short notice. Because you might not have much time when a disaster strikes, it's essential to have a plan in place to get your family out of danger.

If you're a pet owner, that plan better include your four-legged friends that you consider part of your family. New Bedford Animal Control Officer Manny Maciel recently spent his vacation saving animals around totally flooded and ravaged Lafitte, Louisiana, in Jefferson Parish, about 25 miles north of New Orleans.

"We conducted a lot of dangerous water rescues. The people we spoke with all confirmed they didn't have an evacuation plan in place that included their dogs and cats," Maciel said.

He explained that Louisiana will shelter the strayed animals for a month, giving their owners a chance to inquire if their pet is there, and after that, they are sent out across the country to animal shelters that get the word out that these orphaned critters are waiting for local loving families to adopt them.

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But what about here at home? Maciel said that many on the SouthCoast don't have a plan in place for pets, either.

"I can't emphasize enough, that people around here should create an emergency evacuation plan that counts the pets, too," he said. If local officials ask you to evacuate, that means your pets should evacuate as well.

"We train volunteers to say, 'If you go, they go!' Never leave your pets behind," he said. "A plan also comes in handy if someone's going into the hospital or rehab for an extended period of time."

The popular animal control officer passed along some good advice: when searching in advance for an out of the area hotel, make sure it's a pet-friendly hotel. Nothing could be more awful than traveling 300 miles only to find out too late that the accommodations don't welcome Fido.

Maciel brings home words to the wise. Evacuation plans are essential for our family and our fury companions because many people simply don't know what to do when faced with an immediate dire emergency.

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