Last updated: 4 Aug, 2022
Published on: 3 Aug, 2022
A new solution to help pets in emergencies
Ziggy from RSPCA Devenport, Tasmania
During any natural disaster or emergency, pet owners are faced with the added stress of protecting their furry pals and ensuring their safety. Unfortunately, in most cases, evacuation centres and shelters have limited options for pets. Studies have shown that for a majority of pet owners, their pets have influenced their decision to evacuate, where they go during an evacuation, and what modes of transport they use.* This is why it’s become increasingly vital for the needs of pets to be considered during emergency management and planning.
The City of Launceston in Tasmania is already leading the way with progressive animal welfare. Its innovative 40 ft shipping container-turned mobile shelter for pets during emergencies such as floods or bushfires is a great step towards the future of emergency preparedness!
Leading with the way an inclusive disaster management plan
In 2016, extensive flooding caused unprecedented damage across communities in Tasmania. Humans and animals struggled to cope with the significant aftermath of the disaster. After the floods, the City of Launceston audited its evacuation centres and shelters and concluded that companion animals were not adequately provided for.
And that’s when they decided that things had to change.
The first step of the project, which was led by the Council’s Regulations team, was to come up with assessment criteria that they would then use to find a suitable solution. The assessment criteria included:
Is there an entry point that separates the intake/processing of animals from people?
Is there a suitable area to establish a separate animal processing/triage point?
Is there an appropriate area for the accommodation of dogs?
Is there an appropriate area for accommodation of cats/pocket pets?
This was fantastic planning by the team as they took a holistic, well-intentioned approach toward finding a shelter that understands the needs of animals and pet owners. After matching their criteria against available establishments, the City realised that none of the evacuation centres would be a good fit for companion animals. And spawned the idea of a dedicated mobile shelter.
A solution delivered
Launched in November 2021, the shelters are based in a 40-foot shipping container and can house the most at-risk animals in an emergency. The shelter has designated areas for dogs, cats, and pocket pets to ensure the pets are in their own stress-free zones. It also has insulation, air conditioning, LED lighting, extraction fans, running water and an administration area.
This mobile shelter can contain up to 15-20 pets of each type at a time, and can easily be transported to any affected area.
City of Launceston’s mobile companion animal shelter being transported
Caring for the community
Inclusivity played a huge role in the genesis of this amazing initiative. A key driver behind this project was bringing an open mind and including all factions of the community in a preparedness plan.
Peter Denholm, project lead, said during an AIAM conference that every resident, regardless of their location, demographic or personal circumstance, was considered during the planning and design phase of this initiative. The City of Launceston is also recognising the impact on the mental health of pet owners that arrive at an evacuation centre and pet owners who rely on “support animals.” The goal was to create an inclusive safe space barring any need for justification by any human wishing to come to a shelter with their furry companions. A great outcome for everyone!
A positive impact on pets and pet owners
The City of Launceston lives alongside two major river systems prone to flooding - making this project a massive achievement for the community. As pet lovers and pet owners, we all understand that a pet’s safety is as much a priority as any other member of the family, and thinking about their safety can often exacerbate the stress during a disaster.
One of the biggest concerns during an emergency is that residents are often reluctant to evacuate because they fear the well-being of their pets. This mobile shelter provides the necessary reassurance to the community that their pets will be safe and cared for.
Celebrating progressive animal welfare
Launceston’s outstanding efforts to create an emergency preparedness plan for pets didn’t go unnoticed. In 2021, they received a well-deserved “Innovation in Companion Animal Welfare and Management” award at the Pet Insurance Australia Companion Animal Rescue Awards. They also received the local government's 2021 Resilient Australia Award.
About AIAM: The Australian Institute of Animal Management is the national peak body representing Local Government Animal Management Officers. The AIAM Committee comprises a wide range of professionals engaged in the various aspects of animal management. It promotes consistency of legislation, consultation in creating legislation and workplace processes and healthy relationships with external stakeholders and the community.
*Taylor, Melanie & Lynch, Erin & Burns, Penelope & Eustace, Greg. (2015). The preparedness and evacuation behaviour of pet owners in emergencies and natural disasters. Australian Journal of Emergency Management. 30. 18-23.