Pets quake victims, too
In times of disaster, saving pets equals saving people, a University of Canterbury expert says.
If families are evacuated from their homes in a disaster and told to abandon their pets, many would refuse evacuation or later return to retrieve their beloved animals against public safety advice, Steve Glassey said.
Speaking at a disaster management conference in Australia last week, Glassey, who is the associate director of Canterbury University's centre for risk resilience and renewal, said emergency officials must heed the lessons from Hurricane Katrina when it comes to managing pets in times of tragedy.
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States in 2005, tens of thousands of families were forced to evacuate their homes and leave their pets behind.
Many left their dogs and cats inside with water and food, thinking they would be able to return within a few days, but the reality was some never returned at all, Glassey, who is working with Australian researchers on managing animals in disasters, said.
More than 50,000 pets were left behind during the evacuation of New Orleans and about 90 per cent of them died as a result of it.
''The most compelling fact for emergency managers to learn from Katrina was that about 44 per cent of the people who did not evacuate for Hurricane Katrina stayed, at least in part, because they did not want to leave their pets behind,'' he said.
''By forcing pet owners to leave their pets in a disaster, pet owners are more likely to be psychologically impacted. So we are actually harming our communities by not evacuating pets,'' he said.
Most New Zealanders own pets and Glassey said the issue of pets in disasters was highly emotive for Kiwis.
''The human-animal connection is extremely powerful in an emergency management context, both in creating opportunities to enhance public safety, but it is also a major risk if pets are not included in emergency management arrangements,'' he said.
''We can learn the lessons the easy way or the hard way from Hurricane Katrina but simply put, saving pets equals saving people.''
In a survey of Kiwi pet owners, 58 per cent said if they were evacuated without their pets , they would likely return to rescue them despite advice from public safety officials.
When Canterbury's earthquakes hit, there was no mass public evacuation so affected families were able to take their pets with them or arrange to have them stay with friends or relatives.
Despite the lack of an official death toll of pets from the quake, Glassey said at least 3000 animals died as a result of the September 2010 shake alone.
Thousands of chickens died when the shelving units of a poultry barn in Darfield collapsed, eight cattle had to be put down when they sustained injuries falling on concrete, hundreds of seals died from rock fall along the coast and one dog suffered a heart attack.