Pets And Cyclones In Queensland

2011 Richard Murray BVSc, MSc, FAVA

A representative from WSVC attended the Urban Animal Management conference in Canberra a few years ago, where our key note speaker was one John Snyder from the Humane Society of the Unites States (HSUS). That conference was in October and just following on from the Hurricane Katrina disaster in southern USA. As everyone knows, it was Katrina that came storming up out of the Gulf of Mexico to smash and drown most of New Orleans – and we all saw it on the TV every day for a couple of weeks.

John Snyder was already scheduled to speak at our Canberra UAM conference and not actually scheduled to speak on the subject of pet/animal aspects of natural disaster management. But, after having been there in Florida to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he had some arresting material to show us which was relevant to cyclones in Queensland. His main message was: “Hey, this is a heads up people. Look out. Now that the weather patterns of the world seem more angry than ever before, something like this might happen to you one day. Be ready.” We don’t call them hurricanes in these parts (I think they spin the wrong way or something), but we do get cyclones in Queensland and they are every bit as bad.

The scenes that choked me up most were the ones showing people being reunited with the pets they had given up for being already dead and drowned. You could see in the video clips that these people had nothing left – they were on their knees, exhausted and spent from all the stress of the disaster they were living through – their whole world was all gone in one big horrible mess. In the video clips we were shown, the lucky few who had been reunited with their pets literally wept for joy when they found that someone else had rescued and cared for their pet dog or cat until they showed up. Being reunited with their pet animals clearly gave those distressed people hope that there was some light at the end of the tunnel after all. Unfortunately, there were lots and lots of others who were not finding their pets anywhere at the temporary shelters and you had to feel sorry for them.

Just this week, my daughter’s family was caught up in the Victorian bushfire situation. Emergency evacuation procedures ramped up when the firestorm threatened imminent and it was “Right, everybody, that’s it. Leave now with only what you can carry”. The chickens and the dog all bundled into the trailer and away they went to safety in nearby Stawell. It is three days later now and still no one can say if the house is still there or not. I guess that matters not so much when it is people and things most precious you have to save first. Those bush fires happen almost every year in Victoria and country Victorians all know their fire drill. Everyone there knows exactly what to do and how to behave and everything is always ready… it really is life and death stuff and they get plenty of practice.

So, where is this story taking us?… and you probably already guessed it…

Cyclones in Queensland – The Outlook for 2012

According to the Government Bureau of Meteorology, the Eastern region of Australia has a 65% chance of observing above average number of tropical cyclones, where the long-term average is three or four. We are all on notice. We are due for a blow and anyone who has been there and seen one will know the awful (unimaginable) destructive power of mother nature in a rage. Cyclones in Queensland can be every bit as life threatening as those big bad fire storm bush fires in Victoria. The difference is that rural Victorians get real time fire emergency practice almost every year while we just get a cyclone once in every thirty. It is going to be an entirely new experience for many people when our next cyclonic emergency occurs. We don’t get the practice. Do we? Let’s look at some previous cyclones in Queensland.

1. Let’s not forget cyclone Althea in the 70s that tore up the Strand, smashed houses off the Hill and flooded most everything else in the town. No power, no phone, no roof, appalling weather and everything all over the place.

2. Let’s not forget cyclone Tracy that literally flattened Darwin and necessitated the evacuation of the whole city to Alice Springs and such.

3. Let’s not forget that you can’t just nip down to the local shopping centre to pick up emergency supplies when it is all happening because there is a fair chance that when (and if) you can get there, the shops you seek are most likely shut, or out of stock, or out of business, or don’t have power or are all under water, or something just as bad the same as everyone else.

4. Lastly, let’s not forget that we need to cater for our pets in planning and preparing for a natural disaster emergency. It is too late, when the wind is really getting up, to start thinking “Oh my God, I don’t have a supply of fresh salmon for the cat”

How To Plan For Cyclones in Queensland

So I recommend that people with pets need to plan for pets right now as a matter of urgency, just in case we get a blow or three this year. Be sure to check your local City Council’s Emergency Disaster Plan to see what is required of you with respect to dealing with pet animals. Check the Council’s web site, pick up a “Pets and Cyclones” brochure at your local vet clinic or if all else fails, phone the Council help line and ask for advice.
Do not assume that pet animals will necessarily be allowed into emergency shelter accommodation
Be aware that emergency transport being used for evacuation may not allow pet animals to accompany rescued persons
If the worst comes to the worst, be prepared to temporarily leave pets as safe as you can and hope they make it
Don’t assume that you can whiz pets out to a nearby boarding kennel or cattery
One veterinary practice in Canberra during the fires there a couple of years back took in pet animals for clients who wanted them to be more protected in the safety of that new brick building. Unfortunately, to the shock and horror of everybody involved that new brick building was completely destroyed by the fire and every one of all the animals caged therein perished. You may be better off looking after them yourself if you possibly can. The tempting notion that somewhere else will be safer may not be correct at the end of the day.

At this stage, RIGHT NOW TODAY, if you have pets, please think through your emergency preparations with respect to cyclones in Queensland. Food, water, leash, carry basket, litter tray, basic utensils like water bowl, can opener etc etc. If you have to move to higher ground, can the pets be accommodated in the vehicle? If you don’t have a vehicle, do you know who is going to be taking you to a safer place? Will they allow pets to go with you?

First of all… before all else.. I ask this question: Is your pet clearly identified? Does it have a collar and ID tag? Does it have a proper microchip? You have to do this all now – before it is all hitting the fan and you are so freaked out you can’t think straight. Believe me, if a category 4 or 5 cyclone does not freak you right out completely, you are probably already under a pile of bricks and feeling nothing anyway.

Even if we get hit by a big bad category 5 cyclone however, it is still most unlikely that you will in fact end up sitting on the roof of your home with flood water all around waiting for helicopter rescue… or have to move out in the back of an army truck with only the clothes you stand up in… But all of that can happen and it has before so you do have to be prepared.

Please think it through, find out what you need to care for pets in the event of cyclones in Queensland or tsunami or tidal surge or whatever. Ask the questions. Get your cyclone supplies all in one sock and ready to go. Don’t be like the rabbit in the headlights, be smart and be safe. There will always be those rabbits who will never be properly organized no matter how much warning they are given. Just don’t you be one of them. Cyclones in Queensland are a fact of life!