Animals and Disasters: Pet Safety in Times of Calamity

Fagjun | Published 2017-09-07 16:41


 Rescue efforts have been focused on bringing stranded Texans to safety in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. However, animal rescue groups have also been rescuing pets that have been lost or left behind as the storm raged over the state. This has sparked new conversations about pet safety in natural disasters and how animals react to storms.


A man helps his neighbor and her dog get to safety in Houston, Texas, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey [Photo by Scott Olson, Getty]



Animals can be good indicators of a natural disaster or any other natural phenomenon. They can sense things that we can't, and they react to these things by behaving differently. However, don't count on animal behaviors to be able to tell certain things like when a hurricane will arrive or how strong it will be. If animals are able to tell these things, then we haven't discovered how to understand it yet.


In the meantime, what we do know is that animals behave differently when there's a storm coming. They may also become anxious or distressed, which can lead to a new crop of problems.



Pet Safety and Hurricane Harvey


When animals experience anxiety, they may behave unpredictably. Animal behaviorist Pamela Reid with the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says that “[p]ets are much more likely to try and make an escape during stressful situations.” Reid also adds that it's impossible to predict how animals will react to a natural disaster.


Pets, however, do one of the four following things. Escaping is one of them. They may also hide away from people, approach their humans for assurance, or, in rare cases, turn aggressive. If the animal becomes aggressive, it may hinder humans from helping it.



Otis brings a bag of dog food with him as he evacuates himself [Photo by Tiele Dockens]



However, animals can also be surprisingly resilient and resourceful in times of calamity. One example is a German Shepherd mix named Otis, who was affected by Hurricane Harvey's floods in Texas. He was photographed walking down a street near Corpus Christi, carrying a bag of dog food in his mouth.


Reid says that she's actually not sure if this is indeed an example of animal resilience, or simply a hungry dog doing what it can to cope. There's very little research on whether or not companion animals can exhibit resilience. After all, companion animals can survive on their own, but they still rely on humans for a lot.



Disaster Preparedness for Animals


Thus, pet safety during natural disasters is something that those with pets should think about. Some people chain up their pets in their yard to prevent them from escaping and coming into harm when disaster strikes.



A dog tied up to a telephone pole as flood waters rise [Photo by Ruaridh Connellan via Daily Mail]



However, this could backfire. Pets may not be able to escape rising flood waters or even passing predators if they are tied up. A similar thing happened to a dog in Victoria, Texas: he was tied up to a pole, unable to escape to safety as flood waters rose around him. Luckily, a photographer found and freed him before it was too late.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a comprehensive guide on pet safety during natural disasters. Keeping your pets safe without having to put yourself in harm's way is just a matter of being prepared for whatever may come your way.


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