Friday, February 27, 2015

Animals in Emergencies: Learning from the Christchurch Earthquakes. Interview with Donelle Gadenne

This book may well save many, many lives. 

What happens to animals in emergency situations, for example, when a natural disaster strikes? Could we do better to ensure that animal morbidity and mortality is minimised? Can previous experience, traumatic as it may be, be helpful in guiding us in the future?

Donelle Gadenne qualified as a veterinary nurse in Perth, WA and worked at more than 23 veterinary practices in Australia, as a locum at a surgical referral centre and a university-based veterinary training hospital.

But then she switched careers. In 2011 she graduated from Edith Cowan University with a BA in Writing, Editing and International Cultural Studies. In 2013 Donelle relocated to Christchurch and is about to complete an MA in English at the New Zealand Centre for Human–Animal Studies at the University of Canterbury.

Her most recent major project is a book, co-written with Annie Potts, Animals inEmergencies: Learning from the Christchurch Earthquakes, is published by Canterbury University Press.

What is your day-job and how did you come to be involved in this project?

I ‘retired’ from Veterinary Nursing in 2012 when I moved to Christchurch to study full-time at the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies. I also tutor in English at the University of Canterbury.

You began your career as a veterinary nurse. Can you tell us a bit about this and how you moved into writing?

My love for animals and my love of English (particularly literature) have been in competition most of my life. I always dreamed of writing a novel one day and so reading novels was naturally a joy for me.

After enrolling in a BA with a focus of writing, I found myself always being drawn to essay topics that I could mould to involve some focus on animals. I recall the first essay I wrote at university was about captive animals in zoos. In this process, I became aware of the then nascent academic field of Human-Animal Studies and knew this is what I wanted to pursue. It was a perfect way to combine my interest in animals and literature (as I now critique literary representations of animals!).

Human-animal studies is a burgeoning academic field, yet few people make the transition as you did between the veterinary industry and the humanities. Do you think the veterinary industry could benefit from more cross-pollination?

I have been told that it is rare to find scholars who have backgrounds in both science and the humanities, and so I guess in that regard I am a unicorn! I think cross-pollination is becoming more common as we recognise the value of it. Certainly the interdisciplinary nature of Human-Animal Studies indicates that valuable insight into human-nonhuman animal relationships needs to draw inspiration and knowledge from all areas.

Do you have any non-human companions and can you tell us about them?

I live profoundly scarred by the sudden loss of my canine companion, a long-haired Chihuahua named Bear, who passed away in 2007 aged nine. In every possible way, he remains my inspiration to this day. I was also blessed to have cared for two cats, Max and Harley, who both passed away many years ago now leaving me saddened. I think and hope they all lived wonderful lives. 

Donelle and the late Bear. Gone but not forgotten.
Were you affected by the Christchurch quakes and if so, how?

I was one of many Australians who sat in the comfort of our living rooms watching the horror of the February 2011 earthquake unfold live on the news. I had no idea at the time that I would soon move to study and live here. Upon discovering The New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies is in Christchurch, I was equally hesitant and intrigued to come here. I do not regret the decision to move as Christchurch is a special and inspirational place to be right now during the rebuild.

When we read about natural disasters in the media we are trained to measure their severity in the number of human fatalities. The truth is that many animals are killed in such events. How many were killed in the Christchurch Earthquakes?

As a result of the September 4, 2010 earthquake more than 3000 chickens at a commercial poultry farm, eight cows, one dog, a lemur at Orana Wildlife Park, and 150 tanked fish perished but these animals, of course, represent the ones we know about. Water bird species such as the royal spoonbill suffered from avian botulism as a consequence of the polluted waterways.

Ducks, river fish such as brown trout, the endemic longfin eel, the city’s hedgehogs, the coastal dwelling seals, and all manner of urban wildlife would have been killed as a direct result of the earthquakes and relentless aftershocks.

To what extent is what occurred in Christchurch a model for what may happen in other situations?

It is our belief that the principles of ensuring animal welfare in emergencies applies to all disasters, natural and human-made. We learned valuable lessons from the US tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and continue to learn lessons from the more recent tragedies such the Adelaide Hills bushfires and the present situation in Queensland with the damaging Cyclone Marcia.

There will always be disasters, for example, floods, droughts, fires, tsunamis and snow storms and ensuring animal welfare should always be a priority. We have a duty of care to the animals we invite to share in our lives as well as to all those animals we confine in labs, zoos, and on industrial factory farms. Preparing for the safe evacuation of animals and ensuring that they are not simply left behind are necessities no matter what type of disaster or where it happens.   

Do you have any tips for veterinarians, nurses, pet owners and others about planning and preparing for disasters?

We include National emergency management expert Steve Glassey’s Guide to protecting pets in the book, which includes:

  1. Take pets with you when you evacuate.
  2. Have a family emergency plan that includes all animals.
  3. Obtain or create a pet evacuation kit.
  4. Keep electronic images of companion animals online or USB in case they go missing.
  5. Ensure companion animals are de-sexed and micro-chipped before disaster strikes and maintain accurate registration records.
  6. Place an identification tag on each pet.
  7. By far the most important thing is to be prepared!

Of course, we provide comprehensive appendices and link to access further information and resources in the book. 

Thank you Donelle for your time. You can view the book here.