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Friday, 2 November 2012

What does rescue mean for companion animals?

Hi Mia,

Given everything that's been happening since Sandy touched down, I've been wondering, "What does rescue mean for companion animals?"

When a natural disaster strikes, humans understand what rescue means and looks like. Emergency personnel might bring you and your companion animal to safety. If that's not an option, maybe you will have to forge the way for yourself and Fido.

But how do companion animals understand natural disasters and rescue? The below video reminds us that we are not always on the same page:

Warning: Graphic Content

In the video, a dog thrashes about in icy water. As a rescuer kneels on the ice and leans toward the dog, the dog bites him in the face.

Bites during rescues and natural disasters are not unusual. At least, that’s what the numbers suggest.

A recent study* examined domestic animal bites following Hurricane Ike in September 2008. Bites from domestic animals were one of the top three trauma complaints at disaster medical facilities. They found:

  • Bites were inflicted by non-rabid pets
  • 55% were from dogs, 40% from cats and 5% from snakes
  • 80% were bitten by their own dog or cat
  • 100% knew the dog or cat who bit them
  • Most of the bites were severe and occurred within the first 72 hours after the hurricane
  • Most bites involved the hands

After Hurricane Irene last year I wrote the post, Hurricanes Hurt! Animals + Natural Disaster = Biting, discussing how companion animals are not always their "typical" selves during (or after) natural disasters. 

If we don't try and prepare companion animals, or be cognizant of our in-the-moment behavior, our hands might become targets for biting -- simply because we are reaching for or are manipulating an animal in an atypical way in a time of stress. The post I wrote laid out ways to prepare companion animals for emergency situations and suggests ways to monitor our behavior.

Has anyone out there had experiences with this? Do those figures surprise you?
  • Have you done anything to prepare your companion animal should she need rescuing or moving during a natural disaster? 
  • During times of turmoil, are you cognizant of your physical movements and behavior?
My thoughts are with those impacted by Sandy. I hope human kindness prevails. 


*Warner, G.S., 2010. Increased Incidence of Domestic Animal Bites following a Disaster Due to Natural Hazards. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine.

Hecht, J. 2011. Hurricanes Hurt! Animals + Natural Disaster = Biting. Dog Spies.
© Julie Hecht 2012