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Evacuating community companions

Photo: File.

When Mother Nature strikes, pets are often separated from their families in the midst of the chaos.

The local heroes - the crisis defence force - come in to pick up the pieces, but who’s there to rescue the friendly neighbourhood cat?

Animal Evac New Zealand is a new, not-for-profit organisation trained to deal with the evacuation of animals during an emergency or disaster.

As part of the required training, Animal Evac New Zealand is running a series of evacuation courses to introduce new volunteers and better prepare communities across New Zealand.

Co-founder Steve Glassey says this is the first time an evacuation course has been held in the Bay of Plenty, and is one of six courses in New Zealand.

“We wanted to put one back in the Bay of Plenty, mainly because of what happened in Edgecumbe,” says Steve.

He says more than 1000 animals had to be rescued during the Edgecumbe floods in 2017, and many organisations like the SPCA and some civil defence force teams weren’t prepared for the job. “Compare this to a place like the Hutt Valley in Wellington with more than 50,000 houses and our current capacity is not ideal,” he says.

“We also know that when animals are left behind in evacuations, people will put their own safety at risk and they will often go back and breach the cordon. That’s happened in the Edgecumbe floods, the Christchurch earthquake and almost any international case study.”

The courses will cover animal disaster arrangements, emergency preparedness, professional standards, the code of ethics, health and safety and animal emergency registration.

People can then continue to do further practical training in specific fields of animal evacuation, such as field response or shelter response.

“The volunteers may be vegan or against rodeos, but when they put on the Evac hat it is solely to do the right thing to save the animal,” adds Steve. “We don’t judge.

“It’s all about making sure we have resilient communities and having local capacity so that everyone knows how to deal with animals, knows how to make sure they’re evacuated safely and the animal is cared for until long-term arrangements are made.”

Steve says the organisation has also recently sent a submission to government to improve the animal disaster laws.

“Within a year of Hurricane Katrina the US senate passed a specific animal disaster law known as the Pet Act, and it was something like 390 to 29 votes,” he says. “It was an absolute landslide.

“Around 44 per cent of those people chose to stay behind in Hurricane Katrina - in part because they weren’t allowed to take their animals with them.

“Our laws are pretty primitive and I don’t think we’ve really learnt from previous events here and overseas, so it means we’ve got to have a stronger response until something has been mitigated.

“For me, it’s really about saying we know there is a problem and a gap and we think other organisations should be stepping up, but in the meantime let’s not just sit on the sideline and let another Edgecumbe disaster happen.”

Animal Evac New Zealand is running one of its six foundation courses in Tauranga on Saturday, August 25 from 8am-5pm at 244 Welcome Bay Road. As the Trust receives no government funding, course bookings can be made through EventBrite.

To pay tribute to the resilience of the Edgecumbe community, Animal Evac NZ is also giving away two complimentary passes to the Tauranga foundation course. For more information go to: www.animalevac.nz

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