Animal welfare still an issue four years on from quakes

Posted 18 Feb 2015 by CanterburyUniversity Popular

The repercussions of the earthquakes that struck Canterbury four years ago could still be having a detrimental effect on the city’s animals, according to University of Canterbury’s Associate Professor Annie Potts.


Professor Potts – who has co-authored a new book published by Canterbury University Press, Animals in Emergencies: Learning from the Christchurch earthquakes, with former veterinary nurse Donelle Gadenne, both researchers at UC’s New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies – says many welfare issues still remain after the quakes.

Professor Potts says issues include difficulties for families with animals in finding rental accommodation, ongoing anxiety among pet-owners and their animals, and loud noises and changed routines due to the city’s rebuild.

“Four to five years following disaster trauma some people go into a new phase of emotional exhaustion, anxiety and depression. Because our companion animals, especially dogs perhaps, are sensitive to a guardian’s anxiety, they are likely to feel anxious too. Even if you feel upset yourself, it’s very important to maintain a daily routine for your pet so they can feel all is well,” she says.

“It’s really important to acknowledge your own feelings of anxiety or stress, and not unconsciously believe your pet is causing you to feel anxious because he or she is acting upset. It’s more likely they are picking up on your emotions, rather than the other way around. Be sure to do something to help yourself at this stage.”

Professor Potts says people should also be aware of how to reduce the impact of the rebuild on their pets.

“At the moment where I live we’ve had 18 months of constant building noise on both sides of our home, as people’s homes are fixed or rebuilt – these noises are upsetting to dogs, cats and birds, and people should be aware of this if they are out all day at work leaving animals at home to endure the loud bangs and drills of construction sites,” she says.

“Leave a radio on for your animals to lessen the sounds of building outside. Maybe give your dogs a break from the relentless noise by taking them to doggie day care facilities once in a while, and walk them somewhere peaceful each day, if you can.”

Co-author of Animals in Emergencies: Learning from the Christchurch earthquakes, and former vet nurse, Donelle Gadenne says many animals still exhibit behaviours that suggest the trauma they experienced during the events four years ago remains with them.

“Psychological trauma in companion animals can take various amounts of time to resolve, depending on the degree of stress the animal went through and the individual animal’s ability to cope. Of course, managing and treating psychological problems in pets is something that can and should be treated with the help of a trusted vet,” Donelle says.

Professor Potts says the emotional issues and practical stressors that impact on families in normal times take more of a toll in the aftermath of disaster, especially a few years on when “things are supposed to be better” but they feel much worse.

“Incidences of domestic violence are linked to increased pressure within families; and domestic violence is also closely linked to abuse of animals within violent households. This is something we need to be very mindful of and act to reduce four years on from the quakes,” she said.

Animals in Emergencies: Learning from the Christchurch earthquakes, explores the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes on a variety of species, using heartfelt animals stories, and the lessons we can learn in animal welfare from the natural disaster. It focuses on animal welfare in emergencies and includes guidelines on how people can protect their animals. It also provides important information on ensuring safety and welfare of different species during natural disasters.

Animals in Emergencies: Learning from the Christchurch earthquakes, by Annie Potts and Donelle Gadenne, published by Canterbury University Press, November 2014, RRP $39.99, Paperback, 288 pp, ISBN: 978-1-927145-50-0.


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