The Voiceless Victims of Disaster

By Claire Mathieson
While the faces of natural disasters are always human, pets also lose their lives and homes and can often be overlooked when so many are in need.  Many fire departments offer stickers that can be placed in one’s front window to indicate how many pets live inside a house and need to be saved in the event of a small-scale disaster like a fire, but with such devastating catastrophes as hurricanes and earthquakes, pet rescue becomes a much greater challenge.
It’s estimated that thousands of pets have been displaced in the wake of the massive earthquake-tsunami that hit Japan on March 11. People all across the globe have seen the news clip of one such dog, soaked and frightened, protecting its friend, who lies feeble among the wreckage. Knowing they have since been rescued and treated allows us to breathe a sigh of relief, but many like them are still out there and in need of help. 

Rescue efforts are primarily focused on people, and it can be very difficult to keep track of pets in all the chaos.  During Hurricane Katrina, many owners were separated from their pets as found animals were sent to shelters all over the country.  Almost six years later, some still scour the internet, posting pictures of their missing pets on sites like in hopes that someone will recognize them.  Among the overwhelming outrage following the devastating hurricane was a call to protect pets alongside the people who love them.  Thirteen months later, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 was signed into law and mandates that both state and local emergency preparedness authorities have a plan for accommodating pet owners.  The U.S. House of Representatives press release stressed the importance of the act, stating that “when given a choice between their own personal safety or abandoning their household pets, a significant number of people will choose to risk their lives in order to remain with their pets,” declaring it a matter not just of pet safety but of “public safety.” 
Disasters like Katrina and Japan’s recent tsunami test humanity fiercely – whether one is watching helpless from afar or caught up in the incomprehensible devastation itself, we are all affected.  In a place touched by disaster, one where food and water are scarce and all the help in the world will not prevent scarring, it is no wonder pets are often overlooked.  They have no sense of what has happened to their comfortable lives and cannot speak to name their owners.  Fortunately, many people are lending them a voice.  Humane Society International is providing $170,000 in relief, which will go to emergency supplies and shelters.  Furthermore, rescue organizations such as Animal Refuge Kansai, World Vets, and Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support – a partnership between three animal welfare groups – are working to ensure that pets get help too.  Visit their websites to find out what you can do to contribute to the rescue effort.

Claire is a sophomore at Barnard College she is also features editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing. 


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