Companion Animals, Natural Disasters and the Law: An Australian Perspective
2. Recent Major Disasters in Australia and Institutional Responses
2.1. 2009 Victorian Bushfires
The bushfires of late January and February 2009 had a devastating impact on Victoria. Apart from the loss of life, public hospitals provided emergency care to more than 800 people and admitted more than 130 people with a fire-related injury or illness. The fires also destroyed or damaged privately and publicly owned property and infrastructure, national parks, livestock and wild animals. (p. 342)
Five of the 13 major fires that burned in early 2009 led to loss of human life—Beechworth-Mudgegonga, Bendigo, Churchill, Murrindindi and Kilmore East. The greatest loss of life resulted from the Kilmore East fire (119 people), followed by Murrindindi (40), Churchill (11), Beechworth-Mudgegonga (2) and Bendigo (1). Nearly all these people died on 7 February itself; four died in the succeeding days or weeks as a result of the injuries they sustained on 7 February, and one person died as a result of injuries sustained after 7 February. (p. 235)
Some relief centres were established in buildings and were unable to effectively house evacuated pets resulting in people being turned away or having to abandon their animals. For people who regard their animals as family members, this was not acceptable . . . In some cases people delayed leaving their homes or placed their own lives in danger to rescue their pets from the fire. (p. 12)
The most concerning observation was that there was extremely poor planning, coordination and communication in relation to the response for animals affected by the fires. All agencies and organisations involved, including the AVA but possibly with the exception of the Victorian Department of Primary Industry, were clearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event and as a consequence of grossly inadequate planning for disaster management there was a lack of coordination of the response, particularly in relation to pets, horses and wildlife. (p. 15)
The extent of veterinary attention required for pets and horses that had escaped the fires was also unprecedented. In relation to pets, this was to be expected given the extent of property loss, and the many thousands of people that had escaped the fires and were left homeless. Fortunately most of these people escaped with their pets. However many pets were burned and injured or perished in the fires. (p. 2)
Many organisations looked to DPI for the leadership and direction needed to enable coordination of efforts to address animal welfare needs caused by the February 2009 fires. The need for a leadership and coordination role for animal welfare operations across all species has not been apparent in previous emergencies . . .. (p. 16)
There does not appear to be a coordinated approach to animal welfare during relief operations. Improving agency coordination would help to provide more effective relief to all animals regardless of whether they are wildlife, stock, companion animals or pets. There is a good argument to address the welfare of all animals holistically in the Emergency Management Manual Victoria. (p. 345)
2.2. 2010-2011 Queensland Floods
Prolonged and extensive rainfall over large areas of Queensland, coupled with already saturated catchments, led to flooding of historic proportions in Queensland in December 2010, stretching into January 2011. Thirty-three people died in the 2010/2011 floods; three remain missing. More than 78 per cent of the state (an area bigger than France and Germany combined) was declared a disaster zone; over 2.5 million people were affected. Some 29 000 homes and businesses suffered some form of inundation. The Queensland Reconstruction Authority has estimated that the cost of flooding events will be in excess of $5 billion.
Although RSPCA was represented no real planning occurred with respect to animals. Issues that were not considered included: [w]here pet animals would go (no animal evacuation centre(s) identified); [h]ow they would be housed (no portable cages, food, food bowls ready to be deployed); [h]ow to deal with people who would not leave flooded or threatened areas without their pets (rescue people on the ground did not know what to so in these situations); [w]ho would pay for RSPCA rescue and emergency work. (p. 2)
During the 2010/2011 floods, some pet owners were reluctant to evacuate if they could not take or make arrangements for the care of their pets. This was made easier where councils had plans for sheltering pets, as for instance in Rockhampton, where the council worked with the RSPCA to shelter pets in a facility alongside the evacuation centre. Similarly the Ipswich City Council had an animal management team who were able to care for pets at the Ipswich showgrounds evacuation centre and the Lockyer Valley Regional Council worked closely with the University of Queensland Veterinary School at Gatton to care for domestic and farm animals. (p. 197)
3. Legal Issues Raised by Treatment of Companion Animals in Disasters
3.1. Liability Issues
- the position of rescuers who trespass or break into and enter people’s private property to rescue abandoned animals.
- whether veterinarians can treat, including sterilize, animals without owner consent following a disaster.
- where more than one person claims ownership to an animal recovered during a disaster, how those competing claims can be resolved.
- the role of the police and the military in rescuing or shooting abandoned animals.
- the position of animal welfare shelters in dealing with abandoned animals.
3.2. Animal Welfare Law
3.3. Animal Welfare and Disaster Management Legislation
4. Valuing Companion Animals in Times of Disaster
4.1. The Intrinsic Worth of Companion Animals
4.2. Companion Animals as Family Members
In another Australian survey conducted in 1994 and repeated in 2006 by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, the National People and Pets Survey confirmed that 92 per cent of pet owners felt ‘very close’ to their pet. The bond between pet owner and companion animal is so great that some surveys in the United States have even revealed that 50 per cent of pet owners would be ‘very likely’ to risk their lives to save their pets, and another 33 per cent would be ‘somewhat likely’ to put their own lives in danger for the sake of their pets. (p. 207)
The symbolism of household space needs to be emphasised here. Bedrooms are largely highly private spaces, the inner sanctum of privatised societies … in this sense when people in our survey stated that an animal was both a member of the family and allowed into their bedroom, it was a refined answer indicating that they were not just a member of the family but a very close intimate member … in the past when dogs were kept outside, or when they were allowed inside but not on furniture, their separate, inferior status was being marked. To discover that half of those interviewed allowed their animals on furniture is to uncover a major shift in their status and position relative to humans and human society. (pp. 211,212)
4.3. Discarding or Harming ‘Family Members’
a significant number of companion animals are freely surrendered to animal shelters each year in Australia, largely for ‘owner-centric’ reasons. The fate of many of these animals—including young, healthy animals—is death. These companion animals are legally discarded, with no regulatory sanction falling upon those who relinquish their animals. There is, therefore, a striking tension in the way society regards companion animals. On the one hand, they are affectionately regarded as members of the family. On the other hand, the role of animal shelters shows that they are also regarded as dispensable, being freely discarded in significant numbers each year. (p. 869)
incorporating animals into disaster response is a positive step, but more basic steps in educating people about responsible guardianship might go further to reduce the hazards that animals face in future disasters. “Responsible” guardianship must go beyond simply providing food, water, and shelter. It must involve acknowledging a lifelong commitment, and fighting against threats to that commitment.
References and Notes
- Bernard, T.; Ronald, M.; Pascoe, S. The Fires and the Fire-Related Deaths; Final Report; Volume I; 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. 2010. Available online: http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Commission-Reports/Final-Report/Volume-1 (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Bernard, T.; Ronald, M.; Pascoe, S. Summary; Final Report; 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. 2010. Available online: http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Commission-Reports/Final-Report/Summary (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Department of Primary Industries. Internal Review of DPI’s Response to the February 2009 Fires; Final Report. 2009. Available online: http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/getdoc/b7405400-936d-422f-886a-113c7cf3b545/DPI.001.001.0258 (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- RSPCA Victoria. Submission to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. 18 May 2009. Available online: http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Submissions/SubmissionDocuments/SUBM-002-021-0245_R.pdf (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Animal Aid. Submission to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. 6 April 2009. Available online: http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Submissions/SubmissionDocuments/SUBM-002-016-0267_R.pdf (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Australian Veterinary Association. Submission to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. 18 May 2009. Available online: http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Submissions/SubmissionDocuments/SUBM-002-030-0257_R.pdf (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Bernard, T.; Ronald, M.; Pascoe, S. Relief and Recovery; Final Report; Volume II; 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. 2010. Available online: http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Commission-Reports/Final-Report/Volume-2 (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Victorian Emergency Animal Welfare Plan; Department of Primary Industries: Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Available online: http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/agriculture/about-agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare-in-emergencies/about-victorian-emergency-animal-welfare-plan/victorian-emergency-animal-welfare-plan (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Holmes, C.; Sullivan, J.; Cummins, P. Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry; Final Report. 2012. Available online: http://www.floodcommission.qld.gov.au/publications/final-report (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- RSPCA Queensland. RSPCA Qld Submission to the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry. Available online: http://www.floodcommission.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/file/0009/4023/RSPCA.pdf (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Holmes, C.; Sullivan, J.; Cummins, P. Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry; Interim Report. 2011. Available online: http://www.floodcommission.qld.gov.au/publications/interim-report (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Queensland Government. Queensland Government Response to the Floods; Interim Report; Commission of Inquiry. 2011. Available online: http://www.premiers.qld.gov.au/publications/categories/reports/assets/response-to-flood-inquiry.pdf (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Anderson, A.; Anderson, L. Rescued: Saving Animals from Disaster; New World Library: Novato, CA, USA, 2006. [Google Scholar]
- Animal Legal Defense Fund. Responding to Disasters. Available online: http://www.aldf.org/article.php?id=264 (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Australian Animal Welfare Strategy and National Implementation Plan 2010–2014; Commonwealth of Australia. 2011. Available online: http://www.daff.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/2052350/aaws.pdf (accessed on 1 July 2012).
- Thornber, P. The Australian Animal Welfare Strategy. Aust. J. Emer. Manag. 2004, 19, 26–28. [Google Scholar]
- For a detailed account of companion animals and the law in Australia, see White, S. Regulation of the Treatment of Companion Animals. In Animal Law in Australia and New Zealand; Cao, D., Ed.; Thomson Reuters: Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2010. [Google Scholar]
- Regan, T. The Case for Animal Rights; University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, USA, 1983. [Google Scholar]
- Singer, P. Practical Ethics; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 1993. [Google Scholar]
- Nussbaum, M.C. Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership; Harvard University Press: New York, NY, USA, 2006. [Google Scholar]
- Donovan, J.; Adams, C.J. Beyond Animal Rights: A Feminist Caring Ethic for the Treatment of Animals; Continuum: New York, NY, USA, 1996. [Google Scholar]
- White, S. Companion Animals—Members of the Family or Legally Discarded Objects? Univ. NSW Law J. 2009, 32, 852–878. [Google Scholar]
- Bogdanoski, T. Towards an Animal-Friendly Family Law: Recognising the Welfare of Family Law’s Forgotten Family Members. Griffith Law Rev. 2010, 19, 197–237. [Google Scholar]
- Franklin, A. Animal Nation: The True Story of Animals and Australia; UNSW Press: Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2006. [Google Scholar]
- Irvine, L. Animals in Disasters: Issues for Animal Liberation Activism and Policy. J. Crit. Anim. Stud. 2006, 4, 2–16. [Google Scholar]
- Petrie, L.A. Companion Animals: Valuation and Treatment in Human Society. In Animal Law in Australasia: A New Dialogue; Sankoff, P., White, S., Eds.; Federation Press: Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2009. [Google Scholar]
- Francione, G.L. Animals, Property and the Law; Temple Press: Philadelphia, PA, USA, 1995. [Google Scholar]
- For example, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, federal legislation addressing animal care in times of disaster was passed by the US Congress (Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006). For a critique of this legislation, see: Baum, M.L. “Room on the Ark?”: The Symbolic Nature of U.S. Pet Evacuation Statutes for Nonhuman Animals. In Considering Animals: Contemporary Studies in Human-Animal Relations; Freeman, C., Leane, E., Watt, Y., Eds.; Ashgate: Surrey, UK, 2011. [Google Scholar]
© 2012 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).
Share and Cite
White, S. Companion Animals, Natural Disasters and the Law: An Australian Perspective. Animals 2012, 2, 380-394. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani2030380
White S. Companion Animals, Natural Disasters and the Law: An Australian Perspective. Animals. 2012; 2(3):380-394. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani2030380Chicago/Turabian Style
White, Steven. 2012. "Companion Animals, Natural Disasters and the Law: An Australian Perspective" Animals 2, no. 3: 380-394. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani2030380