Monday, January 10, 2011

Pets perish in rising floodwaters

There is a massive tragedy sweeping Australia this week: many thousands of people are being forced to evacuate their homes as once in a generation floods overwhelm the landscape.  In many cases, people are able to get to safety but their pets may not be so lucky, and obviously larger animals like horses and livestock are even harder to move.   Cairns needs to pay close attention to how this unfolds, as we could face similar challenges in a cyclone/storm surge event.  For the most part there are poor plans in place for pets and animals: most evacuation centres DO NOT take pets, so pet owners and councils need to make better plans in advance to prevent pet loss.

Floods prompt call for pet evacuation laws

By Tim Leslie


Fri Jan 7, 2011 3:55pm AEDT


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Wendy Hilcher from the RSPCA (right) helps to rescue a dog caught by the rising floodwaters in Rockhampton.

Wendy Hilcher from the RSPCA (right) helps to rescue a dog caught by the rising floodwaters in Rockhampton. (AAP: Kelly Watt)

The RSPCA is calling on all levels of Government to take pets into account in future flood preparations, as it launches an appeal for donations to feed animals displaced by Queensland's devastating floods.

Spokesman Michael Beatty says while authorities are doing what they can to help animals in need, Australia should take its lead from the United States, where disaster laws regarding pets were introduced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"I think down the track the whole situation in regard to domestic animals in particular will probably need to be reviewed," he said.

"We have to now look forward and perhaps view the situation in much the same way as the United States now does.

"They learnt a lot of lessons after Hurricane Katrina there, and now it's enacted in law that provision for pets must be made along with provisions for humans. In other words, there has to be evacuation centres for pets as well as humans, and/or the evacuation centres that are catering for humans also have to cater for pets."

Mr Beatty says while the RSPCA has been able to set up evacuation centres in Rockhampton and Bundaberg, people in smaller towns have been forced to leave their pets behind or in some cases put them down.

"Luckily in Rockhampton and Bundaberg they basically had enough time, so they could make provisions for their pets, or they were able to bring their pets with them," he said.

"Unfortunately in Condamine, and to a certain extent Theodore, the situation wasn't quite as encouraging. There were undoubtedly pets that did die in Condamine because they weren't able to take them out in helicopters at short notice.

"Some of those pets did get left behind in Condamine and you'd have to say presumed perished, and some of the owners took the only action they thought they could and they put the animals down before they left."

He says while it is important the rescue efforts focus on human lives, pets play an important role in helping overcome tragedy.

'Part of the family'

"I think people need to understand how important pets are to people, particularly in a crisis situation," he said.

"And particularly with older people or people who live alone, often that pet is either part of the family, or their entire family.

"And to lose their pet is akin to losing a member of the family, so we just have to understand how important pets are, and also the role that pets can play in helping people get over personal tragedy."

Livestock is at particular risk from the rising waters, with fences cutting off possible escape routes.

Mr Beatty says volunteers have been attempting to help stranded animals.

"We've been trying to get out to animals that have become trapped or stranded," he said.

"Obviously with livestock if they haven't been moved to high enough ground because of the fences and what have you, they can't get to higher ground, so you have to somehow get in and cut the fences and allow those animals to get through to higher ground," he said.

Mr Beatty says farmers hopefully learned the lessons from 2008 floods, but the magnitude of this disaster means losses are inevitable.

"Judging from the carcasses that have been observed floating down the Fitzroy River, there's a lot of livestock that did perish," he said.

"Whether or not it's on the same scale as 2008, you'd have to hope not. Certainly the message went out way before time.

"I think part of the problem with these floods were that they were a lot more severe than was originally anticipated, and perhaps some livestock owners thought 'well, that area didn't go under in 2008 so hopefully the stock will be OK here in 2011'."

But Mr Beatty says the RSPCA is heartened by how native animals have fared in the floods.

"The only slightly encouraging situation is that so far there don't appear to be that many casualties among the wildlife," he said.

"Obviously there are pockets of roos and the like stranded on different high spots throughout the floods. There's going to be a need to get some sort of food to them, especially if we can get to them once the waters start to slightly recede, and the same goes for livestock out there.

"[But] the only native animals that we're seeing in abundance displaced among the city areas because of the floods is obviously snakes and rodents."

People wishing to donate to the RSPCA's flood appeal can go to:

1 comment:

  1. I am sure many animals were separated from their families, but have survived. Now is the time to rescue those animals, take their photos and put them in books. Take those books to the shelters where the people are and help people look through the books to find their animals.

    One grim discovery after Katrina was that people died because they stayed with their animals. California firefighters found that evacuations were significantly slower when people were not allowed to take their animals. They went from house to house arguing.

    In the States people can now take their animals and shelter is usually provided. Motel chains suspend their no pet policies and in volunteers in the community step up to help with the overflow of animal evacuees.

    However, only Louisiana state has effective legislation. Louisiana provides transportation for people and dogs and cats. Many people in cities lack transportation. In every other state, the evacuee has to find transportation for dogs and cats. So, in 49 states if you do not have a car, your animal stays behind. In Louisiana, state workers and volunteers put your animals in crates at a pick-up points -- or they go to your house if you are disabled and unable to come to the pick-up point.

    Federal pet legislation mandates that animals "be considered." This means that in states with frequent evacuations, evacuation centers are set up where animals may be dropped off. There is NO transportation provided for animals. In areas where disasters are rare, the fact that animals are evacuating with families comes as a surprise.

    DO NOT model any legislation after federal law, which looks good but does nothing. Look at Louisiana law. I have seen both in action, or I should say I have seen Louisiana law in action and federal law in inaction. Good luck! (We could use legislation here in 49 of our States! -Although California does a pretty good job.)