Furry friends in crisis – pets and livestock during bushfires
Are your pets part of your family? They should be part of your bushfire survival plan too, so you don’t have to risk your life to save theirs. Read the article below or check out the video here.
After helping during a tsunami that hit Thailand in late 2004 and witnessing the devastating impact it had on both people and animals, Erica Honey from Murdoch Pet Emergency Centre was inspired to undertake research into animal welfare during emergencies.
An expert on the subject, Veterinary Nurse Supervisor Erica says preparation is the key if you want to keep your pets or livestock safe.
“It’s vitally important to have a bushfire survival plan, which includes what you will do with your animals during a bushfire,” Erica said.
“If you are evacuating during a bushfire, you should try to take your pets with you on the first trip.
“There have been cases where people have had the best intentions of going back to get their pets on a second trip, only to find when they return that the roads have been closed because the area is unsafe.
“No one wants to see their pets left in dangerous circumstances and it can cause distress to your family if that happens.
“The best way to avoid this is to develop a bushfire survival plan, practise it with your family and know your triggers for when to put it into action.”
Erica recommends having emergency kits ready for your family and animals, in case you have to evacuate, or your home is cut off from supplies.
“If you are evacuating and you have several pets then it can add up to a lot of things. As part of your planning you need to think about what you need for your animals’ wellbeing and how you are going to transport everything,” she said.
While evacuation centres provide temporary accommodation during emergencies, they can’t accommodate animals other than trained assistance dogs. This means pet owners need to plan ahead regarding where they will stay.
“It’s usually best for pets to stay with their owner in a place they’re familiar with. People’s own stress is also usually diminished if they can have their pets with them,” said Erica.
“If your plan is to stay and defend, then you should keep any household pets inside with you so you know they are safe.”
For equestrian owners, the advice from both Erica and from Diane Bennit of the Western Australian Horse Council (WAHC) is to evacuate horses early if there is a threat.
“Horses are ‘flight’ animals and get quite anxious,” said Diane.
“Don’t wait until you can see flames to try and load your horses into the float, as they will already be well and truly stressed and much more difficult to manage.”
Erica said establishing a buddy system is a great idea for horse owners.
“Have an agreement with someone, preferably in an area away from yours, where you can take your horses during an emergency. This will give you peace of mind knowing they are in a safe location and will be looked after,” Erica said.
If you can’t find a ‘buddy’ and need urgent assistance, you may be able to access temporary agistment via the WAHC during a bushfire or other emergency. Contact the WAHC Facebook page for more information.
Livestock can be more difficult to move due to their large numbers, making it all the more important to have a plan in place and act early.
“It’s a good idea to coordinate the relocation of livestock with your neighbours, friends or relevant associations as early as possible,” Erica said
“If you’re forced to leave livestock on your property then it’s recommended you leave them in an area with low vegetation, and a large body of water for example a dam or river.
“You may even want to cut internal fencing to enable livestock to move into other areas if they need to escape a bushfire.
“However, it’s very important to leave external fencing intact so animals don’t get onto the road and create a hazard for people trying to evacuate and emergency services.”
DFES Director Community Engagement Suellen Flint said animal owners can check with their local council about local emergency plans.
“You can find out what arrangements are in place regarding temporary animal shelters and yards in times of bushfires or other major emergencies,” Suellen said.
“At the end of the day, your animals are your responsibility and there is a duty of care to do all you can to protect them.
“Living in a suburban area doesn’t mean you are free from the threat of bushfire.
“This was highlighted last summer, with bushfires affecting suburban areas in the Cities of Rockingham, Cockburn and Swan,” she said.
Erica stressed that animals can succumb to many of the same conditions as people affected by bushfire.
“They can suffer smoke inhalation, burns and trauma,” said Erica.
“Animals are capable of feeling emotion and pain, so if they have been exposed to a traumatic event then they can show behavioural changes and signs of anxiety.
“If you suspect your animals have been anywhere near a bushfire it’s important to get them checked by a vet.
“Identify some 24 hour veterinary hospitals close to your area as part of your bushfire survival plan.
“The preparation required for people to prepare themselves, their animals and their property to be ready for an emergency can require some time and effort but it really is worth it.”
Pet emergency kit checklist
Registration or licence papers
- Pet medications, medical and vaccination records and veterinarian contact details
- Sufficient food and water for each animal for up to two weeks
- Plastic bowls for food and water
- A familiar pet blanket, bedding or towels, toys and grooming equipment
- A secure pet carrier cover, cage, leash or harness to transport and keep animals safe
- For birds, place food and water dispensers in bird cages and have a cage cover
- Sanitation items such as rubbish bags, kitty litter and dog litter disposal bags
- Recent photos of your pet for identification
- Gloves, disinfectant and paper towels for your own hygiene.