Australian officials have come under fire for being cruel and merciless for upholding the rule that family pets should be left behind when people are evacuated in natural disasters. In light of the recent deadly floods and the wildfires in 2009, Australia animal activists are calling for pet evacuation laws to be passed regarding the safety of pets during natural disasters, similar to the laws passed in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.
Roughly 600,000 pets were killed or were left without a home as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Many others were left stranded because they couldn’t be taken into safety shelters. The pet evacuation laws require temporary pet shelters, an identification system, and allowing pets to ride on public transportation during emergencies.
Michael Beatty, a spokesman for the Australian animal welfare group RSPCA maintains that further review of protocol is necessary.
I think down the track the whole situation in regard to domestic animals in particular will probably need to be reviewed. I think people need to understand how important pets are to people, particularly in a crisis situation. And particularly with older people, or people who live alone, often that pet is either part of the family or their entire family.
But are pets really part of your family? Should they be?
A few months ago, we started the search to adopt a puppy. We wanted to adopt a dog that needed rescuing because the idea of giving money to a breeder that financially profits from contributing to the endless stray population was just incomprehensible. After researching about what kind of dog would fit our family, be good with kids, and happy in a nosy household with three children, we finally found her at North Shore Animal League in Long Island.
When we arrived, we were led to two large rooms filled with adoptable puppies. We looked at every single one for about an hour when a set of cages with new arrivals were wheeled in and our pup was in that batch. She was a quiet, mushy, black lab that stared at us with those “take me home” eyes. We named her Django (Jango). The name comes from a 1966 spaghetti western. She is beautiful, loving and playful. When they handed her over to me and I walked down the long corridor, it was similar to leaving the hospital with a baby. The kids adore her and so do we. It feels very much like we expanded our family, not just “got a dog”.
Incidentally, in all likelihood, Django came from the south. The adoption agent informed us that many puppies come in droves up from the south because of the strays that became abandoned during the hurricane and the thousands of litters that were a direct result. They also rescue straight from puppy mills. The week we were there alone, North Shore rescued over 65 mill dogs that were slated to be euthanized, and brought them from Missouri to their Long Island location.
The kids have grown close to her in a way that is similar to bonding to a new sibling. While she requires a lot of training, play, and interaction (like a baby), they help her as they would do for each other; they feed her, put her outside, and play with her when they are tired and sometimes busy. She has her own bed, toys, doctor and Christmas stocking. She has become one of us.
I know she’s not a child and I would never place her on the same level as my children, but is she part of our family? Yes, she certainly is. And in the event of a natural disaster, I would be devastated if there weren’t implements put in place to protect her and pets everywhere. Our kids would be utterly crushed and I don’t know if we would honestly leave her. Hopefully, we’ll never be in that situation but it’s comforting to know that a pet evacuation policy exists if we ever were.
Image: Amanda Sullivan