Part of traveling with pets is keeping them safe, and that includes planning for the worst-case scenario. It’s not pleasant to think about, but simply hoping for the best could leave your pets in a precarious situation. And once it’s done, it’s done! So, let’s spend a few uncomfortable minutes developing our strategy and then enjoy the satisfaction of knowing we’re responsible pet owners!
Life is uncertain for everyone, but living full-time in a motorhome presents some unique challenges. I actually have two worst-case scenarios. The first is a fire, which spreads unbelievably fast in RVs. Being organized and having a plan increases the chances that we’d all get out safely.
My second worse-case scenario is being injured (or worse) when we’re away from the RV without Myles. If Rod and I went for groceries and got into a car accident, how would our families find Myles the RV? They could spend precious hours calling all the RV parks within driving distance of the crash site hoping to locate our motorhome – and if we were camping off-the-grid, they’d be completely out of luck. Our only hope is to prepare in advance.
Traveling with our pets means taking their needs into consideration in every aspect of our planning – including what we’d do in an emergency. We’ve all seen the nightmare photos of an RV on fire, and we know that preparation is the key to ensuring everyone gets out of that situation safely. So, now’s time to review your family’s emergency RV evacuation plan!
The first step is to identify all possible exits. The National Fire Protection Association requires that RVs have emergency escape windows, and everyone who travels with you should be made aware of their locations and how to they operate. It’s a good idea to open these exits on a regular basis to be sure that everything is in working condition.
Next you’ll want to consider the practical aspects of getting yourself and your pets out of each exit. Every family and RV combination is unique, so your plan needs to be customized to fit your circumstances.
Important considerations when formulating your escape plan:
Based on these considerations, below is what we’ve decided is the best way to get out of our Itasca Meridian in a hurry.
If we had access to the entry door of our motorhome:
If a fire started in the back of the motor home and we had access to the entry door beside the passenger seat, we’d simply grab our pre-packed “go bag,” the dogs’ leashes, which are also kept by the door, and get out.
If we did not have access to the entry door of our motorhome:
If, for some reason, our entry door was not operational – perhaps a tree fell on that side of the coach, or the coach was on its side – we’d use one of the windows in the front of the RV to escape. Our plan is for Rod to go out first and help me get Buster and Ty out, before helping me to the ground.
If a fire started during the night, or we didn’t have access to the front of our RV, we’d be limited to the bedroom emergency exit. This window pushes out from the bottom and is hinged at the top – and it’s heavy! We found an old mop handle that was just the right length to prop the window open and we keep it next to the bed.
Our plan for going out the bedroom window quickly goes like this: As soon as the smoke detector wakes us, Rod opens and props the window, grabs the spare set of RV door and compartment keys we keep in the drawer directly under the window, and climbs down. While he’s doing that, I gather the dogs and get them up on the bed.
At this point in your plan development, it’s a good idea to open your emergency escapes and have a look down. For us, that between a 7 and 7.5 foot drop. Ty and Buster are unlikely to go happily out that window, so we’ve come up with a couple of ideas to help get the boys out quickly.
Ty is small enough to fit in a pillowcase, which I can grab off the bed, pop him into, and lower him to Rod on the ground.
Buster, at 80 pounds, is too big for the pillowcase, but the wood cover on the fuse panel at the foot of our bed makes a good bridge between the mattress and the cabinet under the window. From the bed, I’d get buster to walk across that panel and, with Rod below, we’d help him to the ground and I’d follow behind.
One weakness of our plan is that we keep our “go bag” in an easily accessible place the front of the RV, since that’s where we spend the majority of our time. If we did need to escape from the back of the coach, we may not be able to reach the “go bag” in time – and certainly anyone that has gotten out of a burning RV should never go back inside to retrieve any possessions!
This plan may not be perfect, but it’s 110% better than having no plan at all. If you have any suggestions, or want to share your ideas for evacuating your RV in an emergency, please leave a comment below!
Then there’s the issue of proximity. Our immediate family all lives in the Midwest and on the East Coast. We spend a big part of each year out west, so expecting my parents or sisters to pop over and take care of the dogs is out of the question. And, unlike most pet owners, we don’t even have a regular pet sitter or boarding facility to count on.
Finally, how could our family members be expected to know the ins-and-outs of taking care of the boys? Ty and Buster are senior dogs, with all that entails. They take prescriptions and supplements, require help maneuvering stairs, and have a routine that makes them comfortable. If we were no longer around, we’d want their lives to stay as stable as possible while they adjusted.
So, how are free-wheeling pet lovers to provide for their pets? With technology, of course!
My phone is programmed with an ICE number – the “In Case of Emergency” contact that would lead paramedics or the police to my parents. After they received “the call” the first hurdle my family would face would be finding Ty and Buster in the RV. Luckily, this was easily overcome. They make an app for that … in fact, they make a lot of apps for that!
The free version of the family locator app, My Family, gave us all the functionality we needed and then some. Setup was easy, and my parents and sisters were able to join our group by entering a unique invitation code generated through the app when I sent them invitations. The rest of my family can even turn off tracking for their locations since I’m the only one whose whereabouts are uncertain.
Rather than installing the app on my phone, which I almost always have with me, the tracker resides on a tablet that almost never leaves the motorhome. My Family opens to a map that allows me to verify our location is being reported accurately. But most importantly, my entire family can now quickly track down our RV in case of an emergency.
Since we’re normally far from friends and family, if Rod and I couldn’t care for Ty and Buster, my sisters would be in charge of hiring a pet sitter to look after the boys until reinforcements arrived. All three of my sisters have pets and are skilled online researchers – I trust them to find a topnotch pet care provider. But that person would be unfamiliar with our dogs, and even if he or she knew where the motorhome was – how would they get in?
We solved this problem by putting together a detailed description of the dogs and their care. Everything from where to find their food, medicine, leashes, toys, and treats, to when and where they like to sleep. There’s a bit about how we manage Buster’s reactivity to other dogs, Ty’s methods of communicating that he needs to go outside, and our tricks for getting them to take their pills. In addition, we hid a spare key on the outside of the motorhome and the document has instructions on where to find it.
Uploading the file to a Dropbox folder shared by my family gives all of us access to it and allows me to make quick edits if things change with Ty and Buster. In the event of an emergency, my sisters could easily forward a person who’d never met our dogs everything they’d need to know about them.
Our wills lay out our wishes for Ty and Buster and provide funds for their care. A friend has agreed to take the boys if Rod and I are gone, and the executor of our estates has a copy of our wills and knows that his top priority will be ensuring that the boys get to her as quickly and comfortably as possible.
It’s my most sincere desire that these plans are never needed. But imagining our dogs languishing in our motorhome for days before someone realized there was a problem upsets me more than the prospect of dying. Knowing that we’ve covered all our bases to ensure Ty and Buster’s safety, and that my family is on board to help, is a huge relief. No one lives forever, and being prepared can make all the difference for those left behind.