Preparing animals for disasters

Buena Vista Rd residents Richard Astle and Fran Elston (third from left) with dogs Makeia and Milo, with Blue ARC's Jenny Bigelow and Dr Mel Taylor from Macquarie University.
Buena Vista Rd residents Richard Astle and Fran Elston (third from left) with dogs Makeia and Milo, with Blue ARC's Jenny Bigelow and Dr Mel Taylor from Macquarie University.

Do you know how best to look after a treasured family pet during a disaster or where to go for help?

These are just some of the questions researchers will be asking in a survey aimed at preparing the community better for natural disasters in the wake of the 2013 bushfires.

The survey is a project of Macquarie University researchers, in conjunction with small community group Blue ARC – responsible for the book As the Smoke Clears, a compilation of photos taken after the bushfires, showing the resilience of the Blue Mountains bush and people, and the revitalisation of Emma Parade Park in Winmalee. 

Dr Chris Blair by the memorial in Winmalee dedicated to the animals lost in the fires of 2013.

Dr Chris Blair by the memorial in Winmalee dedicated to the animals lost in the fires of 2013.

Dr Mel Taylor is leading the research project Managing Animals in Disasters, which is funded by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre.

She says animals can be affected by traumatic events for some time after, just like people.

“After floods, research has shown in heavy rain animals get agitated,” Dr Taylor said.

The memorial outside Winmalee Greencross Vets.

The memorial outside Winmalee Greencross Vets.

“And farmers who lose their livestock, it has a huge emotional impact.”

As does the loss of “lovestock” – pet livestock like sheep, goats or alpaca.

Blue ARC member Jenny Bigelow said they hoped to find out what resources people needed for animals during emergencies, what systems needed to be in place, and what gaps there were in preparing for local emergencies.

They also hoped to assess how prepared the community is for an emergency with their animals, and learn from previous experiences like the 2013 bushfires.

Fran Elston lives in Buena Vista Rd, Winmalee – one of the worst hit streets during the 2013 fires.

She recalls how her son Josh, who has Down syndrome, was home with a carer at the time, and as they were leaving the house, their dog Milo was so scared he jumped out of the carer’s arms.

They managed to get Milo back and left the street.

“You relive the smell of the smoke," Ms Elston said.

“Josh doesn’t say much but if we have a thick fog he gets panicky.”

It’s hoped even talking about how to better prepare for disasters will get people thinking about how prepared they and their pets are.

“It can be used as a motivator,” Dr Taylor said.

“Thinking about what the impact is for them, they may think ‘I can deal with it, but what about my dog, how will she cope?’”

Dr Chris Blair at Winmalee Greencross Vets, then called Wimmalee Petfriends Veterinary Hospital, devoted countless hours at the practice after the 2013 fires tending to 350 injured animals free of charge, at a cost of more than $100,000.

“Everybody got evacuated from the [Winmalee] shopping centre. We stayed. We tried to treat animals,” he said.

“We had truckloads of food delivered to the practice. The outpouring of help was extraordinary.”

Outside the practice there is a memorial dedicated to all the animals who lost their lives during the fires.

To prepare for future bushfires Dr Blair would like to see regular backburning occur, where native animals have the chance to flee.

“The amount of birds and wildlife has dropped off significantly [since the fires in Wimalee],” Dr Blair said.

Copies of the survey are available at Springwood and Winmalee Neighbourhood Centres, The Turning Page Bookshop in Springwood and online at: www.surveymonkey.com/r/animals-in-emergencies-survey