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Most pet owners are not prepared for a natural disaster

A new study from James Cook University has found that most pet owners are not prepared to save their pets in the case of a natural disaster. According to the researchers, developing disaster response plans for pets can actually save human lives as well. 

Dr. Yetta Gurtner from JCU’s Centre for Disaster Studies supervised the study. She said that it’s well known that human-animal relationships can inhibit effective emergency responses and evacuations, and cause premature returns to dangerous areas. 

“The desire to safeguard animals in an emergency situation can ultimately result in human fatalities, and people who risk their safety for the welfare of animals remain a significant emergency management issue,” said Dr Gurtner.

The researchers surveyed 242 pet owners in Townsville, a coastal city in northeastern Queensland that is threatened with many types of natural disasters. The results showed that the majority of pet owners were uncertain and underprepared for an emergency.

According to Dr. Gurtner, about half of the respondents indicated that they did not have a household disaster kit or an evacuation plan. Among those who did, only 39 percent had designated plans to evacuate their pets.

“Importantly, 91 percent indicated they would not be willing to leave pets behind,” said Dr Gurtner. She noted that previous studies reported that only 70 percent of people who were advised to leave their home during a disaster had complied, and many were unwilling to leave pets behind. There were some cases where a family member stayed behind with pets while the rest of the household evacuated. 

Dr. Gurtner said the twin phenomena of under-preparedness for disaster and affection for pets may present an opportunity for emergency planners.

“Other researchers have suggested the ‘pets as a protective factor’ principle in which companion animal guardianship can actually motivate owners to be proactive in disaster risk management planning.”

“They suggest that focusing on individual disaster preparedness ‘for the sake of your pet’ will deliver better engagement for planning for pet evacuation and self-reliance that will, in turn, yield higher human survival rates.”

Dr. Gurtner explained that states and territories have many different policies regarding the accommodation of pets in emergency shelters.

“Given the varied contexts and capacities, people who own animals should seek advice from local authorities for up-to-date information specific to local circumstances.”

“In the Townsville survey, 71 percent indicated they were uncertain whether local government shelters allowed pets and almost 4 per cent believed, falsely, that companion animals other than recognised assistance animals were allowed in Queensland storm shelters.”

In conclusion, Dr. Gurtner said that if pet owners do not want to leave their pets behind in the case of a natural disaster, they should ensure their plans include appropriate arrangements for their pets. For more information on how to keep your pets safe, check out the RSPCA guide to protecting pets in emergencies.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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