In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf states in the United States and became the deadliest disaster in their history. Over 1,800 people and 100,000 animals died. At the time, it was government policy to leave animals behind. It was found that 44% of those who chose to stay behind during Hurricane Katrina did so, at least in part because they were not allowed to take their animals. Within a year, the US Senate passed the Pet Emergency & Transportation Standards (PETS) Act to ensure companion animals would never be left behind.
In April 2017, the township of Edgecumbe was flooded and evacuated. Over 1,000 animals were left behind with emergency services not effecting rescues after the evacuation as “there were no humans left inside the cordon”. Former Wellington SPCA CEO Steve Glassey, then deployed along with the SPCA National Rescue Unit (which he founded 25 years ago) to respond to the plight of the animals. With the help of other volunteer agencies, a massive six-day rescue operation was undertaken – the largest animal rescue in New Zealand history.
The lack of plans and capabilities was disheartening, and Steve left the SPCA later in the year to undertake doctoral study looking at the Edgecumbe flood response to ensure the failures that saw dozens of animals drown and owners breach the cordons at the risk to their own safety would not be repeated. What became very clear was that no one was taking the issue of animal evacuation and emergency sheltering seriously. With the support of co-founder Theresa Parkin, another highly experienced and post-graduate qualified emergency manager, Animal Evac New Zealand Trust was formed in May 2018.
The purpose of the trust is simple. We help with evacuations to ensure no animals are left behind and provide animals temporary emergency shelter until traditional animal accommodation can be provided (such as existing animal rehoming groups, fostering, pet friendly motels, boarding facilities etc). We ensure animals are registered on a cloud-based database to ensure animals are not “lost” in system, like there were in Hurricane Katrina (displaced animals had only a 2% reunification rate with their owners). As we specialise in animal evacuation, and preparing communities for disasters and help them recover, we are New Zealand’s only dedicated animal disaster management charity – we have no other focus, in fact our trust deed prevents us purposely from being involved in animal welfare advocacy or animal rights, unless it is disaster related. This means we can help farmers, laboratories and factory farms if need be, to do the right thing for the animal in times of disaster.
As we have no enforcement powers, we can act in a neutral fashion without any agenda associated with animal rights lobbying. In some ways, we are the “red cross” for the animals and indeed, we are the only New Zealand based animal related charity that is a signatory to the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief.
We continue to need the support of the community to help us save animals, and in doing so save the lives of people too. There is no other organisation that is making this their core purpose or a priority, but we can only prepare and respond if we have your support. Within weeks of forming, we were the only organisation that advocated on disaster animal welfare at the national animal welfare hui, and consequently our lobbying has squarely put this need on the former Associate Minister for Agriculture’s (Hon. Meka Whaitiri) animal welfare action plan action plan. We continue to work with government to lead animal disaster law reform in Aotearoa and presented to Parliament one of the world’s most comprehensive reviews of animal disaster law with the support of Gareth Hughes MP, and former FEMA Director Craig Fugate. We championed the first local government bylaw to protect animals in disaster, thanks to the support of the Kapiti Coast District Council and continue to encourage other council’s to follow their lead.
Grants and donations are used by the trust to train and equip teams of volunteers across the country, as well as support our disaster specific advocacy work. With over 285 registered volunteers so far, we are the largest animal emergency response organisation in New Zealand.