Save the kitties!
November 12, 2007 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Apartment-dwelling cat owners: What do you do when the fire alarm goes off?

I live on the second floor of a new condo building, and have two indoor cats. I had always lived in single family homes until we moved in May. If the house had caught on fire, I would have just grabbed the cats and thrown them in the car or left doors and windows open for them and let them run outside, but now things seem more complicated.

We've had one false alarm since I moved in. I couldn't see or smell any smoke, so I just grabbed the dog and went to wait outside, figuring that if there was any indication that there was an actual fire, I'd try to run back and get the kitties (I know that's not smart). Getting them in their carriers takes ages, and I'm afraid that if I start trying to put them in their carriers whenever the alarm goes off, they'll start hiding when they hear the alarm. Neither of them have any interest in going outside, and if I just tried to shoo them out the door, I'm sure they'd just sit in the hallway, where they would be trapped. And it's a closed building, so if I managed to get them outside without them in their carriers, they would run and hide somewhere and not be able to get back home easily.

I hope that I'll never have to worry about this, but I don't want to not have a plan and have them burned alive or get lost during a false alarm.
posted by amarynth to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You could teach them to get into their carriers when they hear a whistle or when you say a certain word. It would take a lot of time and patience I imagine but would be worth it if you ever had a real fire. Try a modified version of the instructions here.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:08 PM on November 12, 2007

When this happened to me, there was a blanket on hand, so I shoved her into that so that she couldn't easily struggle and run. Then we went and sat in the car. I think a blanket is really useful for that; I don't know if you can squish two cats in there *and* grab your dog, but ... in all seriousness, maybe it's worth practicing? Mind, the animals are going to think you've lost your marbles, but oh well. Treats all 'round!

(There actually WAS a fire, in the apartment next to mine, but it was put out soon. We stayed in the fire well after the all-clear, though, because the fire alarm was still ringing and it totally freaked out my cat. The management hadn't given the fire department a key to the alarm room; it was a Sunday and no one was there. Finally they chopped through the lock and turned it off! Take that, management.)
posted by wintersweet at 1:10 PM on November 12, 2007

My sister followed the blanket wrap route and when it seemed like definitely a false alarm, just left the cat in the apartment. The problem was that this building had numerous false alarms which drove us, and the cat crazy.
posted by Atreides at 1:24 PM on November 12, 2007

Stuff them into pillowcases (best if each cat is stuffed into a separate pillowcase or they go massively berserk).
posted by jamaro at 1:30 PM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

we taught our cats to come to a particular clapping pattern. they would roam outside and use the clap to call them in when it was time to eat. now they'll come no matter what the reason.

start by doing the clap before you feed them. once they get that down, try to call them to other parts of the condo and reward them with treats. if your building is reasonably secure, you might even take them out into the hallways and try it from downstairs.

then, if there is a fire, open the windows and let them get out however they can. start calling them from outside and there's a good chance you'll be reunited.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:31 PM on November 12, 2007

Seconding jamaro - a pillowcase is the easiest and fastest way to transport a cat over short distances. (If you absolutely NEED to get the cat in the carrier, stuff them in a pillowcase, then put pillowcase in carrier. It can all be done in just a minute or two.)
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 1:40 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

We usually put them in their carriers. I've seen my neighbours put their cats in their coats instead (winter fire alarms), but I don't think my cats would be very happy with that arrangement.

Emergency carrier method: Turn carrier on end so opening is on top. Drop kitty inside. Close. Ignore piteous meowing.
posted by heatherann at 1:50 PM on November 12, 2007

My cats are old, and cat carrier time is not happy time for them. In fact, one of them will shit all over himself within five minutes of being in a carrier. I've been living on the fifth floor of an apartment building in NYC for 7 years. There have been numerous false alarms and a couple of real fires. But so far, I haven't taken them out yet.

This is partially due to the fact that the most serious fire happened when I wasn't home, and they were fine. A fire which was two floor down, but on my wing of the building caused considerable damage to the apt where it started, and the fire department actually broke out many of the hallway windows on multiple floors. The apartment above had considerable smoke damage, and the one below water damage. But since this is a "fire-proof" building the flames were contained.

So my criteria for taking the cats is that there needs to be considerable smoke, from which I don't know the source. Last year there was an alarm and some smoke that turned out to be from the same apt from the first fire (it's jinxed, some equipment caught fire while it was being renovated), and I left them because I was fairly certain the fire would be contained. Another time I could smell smoke that was due to a problem in the boiler room 6 floors below in the basement, and I left them then, too.

I occasionally feel guilty, and hope that I will recognize a more dire emergency if one should occur. But I weigh that against traumatizing my two elderly cats more than necessary.
posted by kimdog at 1:58 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

In addition to training them to come when called, kimdog raises an issue. If the cats associate carrier insertion with trips to the vet and other unpleasantness, of course they don't want to get in them.

Friends of mine in dog rescue train the dogs to live out of their carriers. That way the carrier becomes "theirs" and they are happy to get inside at any time.

Note that if you have any data or papers to save as well, it might be a good idea to have something you can attach to the kitty carton.
posted by dhartung at 3:08 PM on November 12, 2007

We used to live in a similar situation, and had plenty of false alarms. The fire alarm was very loud, so the cats weren't thinking about the carriers, they were scared to death by the noise. Couldn't really win--we just had to grab 'em and go.

The trick for us was being absolutely calm. We never call the cats when something unpleasant is coming, we'd just find them as quickly as possible, scoop them up, get them into the carrier (tipping it up really does work) and get them outside. We kept the carriers and our emergency papers in one handy spot in the hall closet, so we didn't have to think about finding stuff.

We're mighty attached to our critters, so leaving them inside was never an option.
posted by frykitty at 3:54 PM on November 12, 2007

Our cats have a "go-to" place when strangers enter the house and when the fire alarm goes off. We created in inadvertently one day by moving some furniture around. It's not the most convenient place, but it makes it very easy to find them. We keep their cat carriers out and accessible at all times in case we have to box 'em. Usually, one person maneuvers the cat carrier and one person grabs the cats. It would be easier with a non-cloth carrier, but that's all we have right now.
posted by nursegracer at 6:58 PM on November 12, 2007

Thanks, everyone! I think I will go the pillowcase-into-carrier route when I see or smell smoke.
posted by amarynth at 1:59 PM on November 14, 2007

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