Nov 8, 2017 in Analysis

Animal Casualties in Disasters

Introduction

The Charlotte County Emergency Management Office is a local agency established by the authorities in Charlotte to coordinate emergencies in the county. In the event there is an emergency outside the county, the Charlotte County Emergency Management Office works together with other emergency rescue offices. The main purpose for its establishment was to provide safety for children and staff in an emergency situation. It also ensures coordination between local county services with government rescue services.

It has been noticed that whenever a disaster occurs, animals are exposed to a lot of risks. This essay, through a case study, examines how the Charlotte County Emergency Management Office deals with issues of animal rescue. The case study brings to the forefront key issues that can be used by animal rights activists. Hurricane Charley revealed how myths about animal behaviour affect their rescue operations. It is estimated that disasters, both natural and technological, affect between two to three million Americans every year. Whenever these disasters occur, both humans and animals are affected.

It is estimated, for example, that over three million animals perished when Hurricane Floyd hit. About ten thousand animals were rescued by animal welfare organizations when Hurricane Katrina occurred. Stories of animals running to higher ground and some even acting as heroes were told after the Asian tsunami occurred. The reality of the situation, however, is that many animals did not make it to higher ground, as most of them died in the disaster. Months after the disaster, thousands of stray dogs and other animals were still in the care of local authorities. These examples only serve to show that animal rescue remains a key issue that the Charlotte County Emergency Management Office has to deal with.

Recently, the Charlotte County Emergency Management Office has made attempts to include animal rescue in their plans. Through an act approved by the House of Representatives in May 2006, the US government gave a directive to all county emergency rescue agencies to include animal rescue in their emergency rescue planning in the event of a disaster. Volunteers and activists have been encouraged to support efforts by the federal government and local authorities. The PETS Act is a huge step in animal rescue efforts, as rescuers will no longer be able to insist on people leaving their pets behind when they are rescued.

In his book “Disaster Culture: Knowledge and Uncertainty in the Wake of Human Environmental Catastrophe,” Button (2010) describes the various opinions people hold about human and animal behaviour during and after a rescue operation. Button (2010) and other researchers explain that there are several myths associated with rescue operations. The victims of such disasters are often expected to show signs of psychological dependency, panic and shock from the disaster. Generally, researchers believe that rescuers are often overwhelmed and shelters filled beyond capacity. It is believed that victims and bystanders all gather due to curiosity and shock. These people, who converge around the victims, sometimes end up looting and stealing from them (Fisher, 1998).

            These beliefs and myths about disasters and public behaviour have been encouraged by disaster researchers and perpetrated by the media. Even though it is true that looting and theft occurs during disasters, it is not as widespread as researchers would like to have us believe. Besides, most of the media coverage, according to Fisher, is based on reports from third parties. In other words, these claims of theft and looting are not supported by any evidence. In contrast to this, very little, if any, anti-social behaviour has been noticed during initial rescue operations. Instead, the entire community is usually very concerned for those affected and are looking for ways to help (Drabek and McEntire, 2003).

In spite of this, rescuers are aware of the many myths associated with disaster rescue mission and try to assure the victims of their safety. Besides, the National Guard is also put on location to ensure that no one steals from the victims. The myths associated with emergency rescue missions affected rescue operations before, as victims refused to leave their homes for fear of looting. Hurricane Charley brought to the forefront a lot of these myths, especially about looting and shooting, after disasters have occurred.

The Event

            Hurricane Charley, which was rated category four, occurred in August 2004. Charley hit Charlotte County in Punta City. More than one million people were rescued from the storm that had winds blowing up to and not less than 145 miles per hour. The damage caused by Hurricane Charley was extensive, and rescuers estimated the loss at three billion dollars. Irvine, a researcher who conducted research after Hurricane Charley, reports of the findings she made after interviewing both the rescue team and the victims (Button, 2010).

The aim of the research was to examine the approach that was given with regard to animal rescue. Interviews were conducted at the Sun coast Humane Society and the Animal Welfare League, which acted as the main stages for animal rescue operation in an attempt to understand how animal rescue operations are conducted in the county. The study was aimed at examining the situation of animals after Hurricane Charley, as compared with the situation of animals after Hurricane Andrew, which occurred in 1992. Hurricane Charley resulted in widespread destruction and suffering of animals throughout the county.

Many veterinary hospitals in the county were destroyed by Hurricane Charley. Later on, Charlotte County sought help from authorities for restoring the destroyed veterinary clinics. The roof of the Animal Rescue League of Charlotte County was also completely torn off. Before Hurricane Charley, about one hundred dogs had been evacuated by local authorities to a tower, where they were placed in kennels and provided with food and water. Cats were not left out, either. They were all placed in safe foster care, managed mostly by volunteers.

Disaster Animal Rescue team brought in about twenty four volunteers on August 14 to take care of animals in a centre that was temporarily set up in Punta Gouda. This shelter provided care and food for abandoned, lost and injured animals. After the shelter was filled beyond capacity with animals brought in, they were moved to other shelters within the county. Some victims realized that they could not afford to take care of their pets after the storm. They had no choice but to give their pets away to the humane society. These animals were taken into shelters all over the county. Dogs that were lost had to stay at the shelter for longer than usual before they were ready to be adopted.

The other services offered by these centres included trying to match reports of lost animals with the animals they had taken in. They helped re-unite families with their lost animal companions. Hurricane Charley also revealed that victims believed in “the dangerous dog pack”, which meant that after a disaster, dogs walked around in angry packs attacking people. A woman even reported being bitten by a stray dog in Charlotte County. At the same time, several dogs were reported to be travelling together around the county. The police made an assumption that these dogs were responsible for the attack and shot one of them. The dog was lucky, as it was able to escape and was later rescued by animal activists who took the dog in for treatment.

Both the local authority and the public believe in the power of the dangerous pack. This myth, like many others, contains some bit of wisdom in it. This is because dogs and other animals can infect humans with rabies. The community should avoid handling stray dogs or any other animals that look scared or frightened. The reality is that animals that have been companions of men right before a disaster like Hurricane Charley are not capable of hurting man. Animals always suffer more whenever these disasters occur.

Managing an emergency is a process that involves going round in circles. The people involved have to do lots of mitigation to be able to respond to various aspects in any evacuation process, as it is important to ensure the safety of both humans and animals. During an emergency, the natural thing to do is to rescue humans first. Animal activists are now trying to raise awareness about the importance of saving animals as well. They argue that this should be the right thing to do under such circumstances.

            Myths associated with disaster have implications for animal rights activism. The same myths influence the way the government deals with disaster evacuation and policies regarding animal rights. Animals also suffer whenever there is a disaster. Life is sacred and must be held so. It is the one aspect that separates us from the other creatures. It would be pretentious for humans to save themselves and let animals die, while still claiming to hold life in high esteem. The lives of animals are just as important as those of humans.

            Animal activists have over the years tried to raise awareness concerning the treatment of animals by humans. Whenever a disaster like Hurricane Charley occurs, it is natural for rescue agencies to try and save the humans first. Animal activists do not dispute this. They, however, maintain that the Charlotte County Emergency Management Office should be empowered to cater for all involved including animals. This calls for more equipment and staff. Research has shown that lack of enough rescue equipment has been one of the reasons why the Charlotte County Emergency Management Office may have decided to give priority.

            It was also noticed that there was not enough trained staff to help during such emergencies as Hurricane Charley. Researchers have also noticed that most of those who volunteered to help were not medically trained to deal with emergencies that come with such an event. Animal activists insist that the Charlotte County Emergency Management Office should revamp their animal rescue department in order to have specialists in animal care help rescue animals during such disasters. This is because these specialists understand how to take care of animals that have been through the shock of a disaster.

            More shelters also need to be put up during such emergencies to take care of animals. Being former companions of man, most of these animals were used to a certain kind of lifestyle. Although these shelters may not provide the exact lifestyle like that they were used to, the animals will not be roaming around posing a threat to humans. Besides, these animals could later be re-united with their owners later on, after life has returned to normal. At the end of the day, rescuing animals has benefits for everyone involved. As such, the Charlotte County Emergency Management Office needs to focus more on animal rescue during disasters and emergencies.

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