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 25-28 September, 2018 | Singapore
H. Squance1
1BML Consulting Limited, Director, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Hayley Squance, BAppSc (VTM), MEd(Adult Education), Ph.D. student
BML Consulting Limited, New Zealand, hayley.
Resilience implies the ability to recover or ‘bounce back’ from threats or disasters. In planning for natural or man- made disasters, resilience has tended to focus at the level of a population or community. In particular, building the resilience of geographically isolated communities.
However, isolation can also exist within urban communities. Through lack of connectedness with others, vulnerable individuals within a community can become socially isolated. Vulnerable individuals may include; the elderly, people affected by a mental illness or drug dependencies, refugees, indigenous people, women, single parents, people with disabilities, and
the homeless. Though socially isolated and vulnerable individuals may possess the skills to function on a day- to-day basis, they may lack the resilience to cope with a crisis situation. Where connectedness to others within a community may be lacking, the support people feel from pets can strengthen the emotional resilience of socially isolated individuals1.
Current evacuation and emergency protocols focus predominantly on the preservation of human life and critical infrastructure. The impact that emergencies have on the psychological well-being of people is a secondary concern, and the complex social and psychological needs of vulnerable individuals are often overlooked. Existing protocols and procedures are designed for people who have connections within their community and can respond to instruction – applying these protocols to vulnerable or socially isolated people might not be successful, and there is a need to make protocols more flexible and inclusive to enhance cooperation
and reduce trauma. For example, in an emergency setting, owners may be encouraged, or forced to
leave pets behind. For socially isolated and vulnerable individuals, this may perpetuate psychological trauma and overwhelm already fragile coping abilities. Allowing people to evacuate alongside their pets can reduce distress and provide an alternative focus, thus acting as
a distractor or ‘normalizer’ during a crisis situation. This may promote a transition from reactionary behaviour to a more considered response to the situation.
Vulnerable individuals may be clients of veterinary practices due to pet ownership. Therefore, veterinary professionals have a unique opportunity to use a shared love of animals to connect with and advocate for the needs of vulnerable and socially isolated individuals during crisis situations. Additionally, as vulnerable people cannot always express their emotional needs, innovative engagement strategies are required to ensure these people retain a sense of connection.2
Breaking down the barriers
Pets can provide more than direct companionship for their owner. Pets can act as ‘icebreakers’ in a social setting. This is an incredibly valuable tool to help vulnerable individuals establish social connections
within their community. Importantly, for socially isolated individuals, this ‘pet-related’ connection can translate into new sources of social support.
It is this safe target of conversation that can also be used to bond with socially isolated people during disaster events. Veterinary professionals can make a significant contribution to inclusiveness of socially isolated people. Ways that veterinary professionals can help during a crisis include; ‘checking-in’ on vulnerable clients, offering the veterinary practice as a ‘safe-haven’ where possible, and providing support in human welfare centres as a friendly face to talk to.
A shifting paradigm
In a recent paper outlining the roles of animal
attachment on disaster resilience of vulnerable groups, Thompson and colleagues explained: “An emerging body of evidence recognises that animal attachment
can pose a risk to human safety in disasters and that, conversely, animal attachment can be leveraged within community engagement strategies to increase disaster preparedness.”2 To put this more simply, pets can play a positive or negative role during disaster management. As policy influencers and first responders, we could swing the balance from negative to positive. This is a paradigm shift for emergency management and veterinary professionals. Re-working the ‘status quo’ will require considerable fore-sight and a multi-discipline approach to develop innovative ways on how to motivate animal owners to be prepared for disasters.
Many human welfare centres will not accept pets during an emergency situation. Unfortunately, ill-preparedness by the general public for a disaster event will lead to
an unnecessarily large proportion of the community seeking refuge in welfare centres. This could mean leaving pets behind, resulting in pet owner distress and significant animal welfare issues. For example, In New

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