Animal safety in emergencies
Good animal management includes ensuring the welfare of your animals before, during and after emergencies.
Events such as fire, storms and flooding can result in separation between animals and their owners, and possibly injury or death.
From 2015 to 2018, major rural fires in South Australia resulted in over 75,200 known animal deaths.
Despite this, evidence indicates that many animal owners and managers are failing to plan for emergency situations.
Having a good understanding of how you will manage your animals as part of your personal emergency survival plan may significantly improve outcomes for your animal(s) and yourself.
Planning considerations for animals
The Managing Animals in Emergencies framework was developed by PIRSA to provide a guide to the key issues to consider when planning for animals in emergencies. It covers the responsibilities of animal owners and what assistance and services may be available to help.
Other planning resources specifically for livestock, horses and pets are listed under the 'More information' heading below.
When preparing an animal emergency plan, it is important to understand that different types of emergencies (e.g. fire, flood, extreme weather, earthquake etc.) may require different plans. Assess the level of risk likely for different emergencies in the area where your animals live.
- Will your animals be safer left where they are or will you need to move them to a safer place if time allows? Think about what will trigger you to enact your plan (e.g. forecast extreme weather, emergency warning etc.)
- What items will you need to support your animal (e.g. emergency kit)?
- If the power fails, do you need to provide a back-up generator for watering, feeding, milking or ventilation of livestock?
- What are the temporary accommodation or agistment options for your animals should your property be damaged?
If you own or manage significant numbers of animals, particularly livestock, you should also consider management strategies for the disposal of carcasses.
Before an emergency
- Practice your animal emergency plan as part of your personal emergency survival plan
- Discuss your plan with neighbours, friends and family
- Insure your animals
- Ensure all animals can be readily identified
- Put together an animal emergency kit that can be easily relocated with your animal if necessary
During an emergency
When enacting your emergency animal plan remember that safety of people is the priority.
Animal owners are encouraged to act in a manner that ensures their own safety, that of emergency responders and the community. Animal owners should not expect others to risk their lives by entering a dangerous area to manage or relocate animals.
If animal owners decide to leave animals on their property during an emergency, others need to respect that decision and not remove animals unless the owners has given permission to do so.
After an emergency
In the early stages or immediately after a major emergency, government agencies will often establish relief centres. These centres offer short-term shelter, information and personal support services for affected people.
In most cases, assistance animals can accompany their owners into a relief centre but that is usually not possible for other animals. Be prepared that if you take animals to a relief centre you will be responsible for their management and care outside of the centre.
Animal care, management and referrals for information may be obtained at relief centres by requesting assistance through relief centre staff. PIRSA’s Agriculture and Animal Services (AAS) may provide support through the RSPCA SA, Animal Welfare League or South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM) if required.
Temporary accommodation for animals
If you need shelter for your animals, you can register at the relief centre for temporary accommodation. The relevant agency will contact you to discuss options (which may involve a fee).
Assistance for injured animals
As soon as it is safe to do so, animal owners and managers are encouraged to seek veterinary treatment for any injured animals.
Animal owners and managers can contact PIRSA for assistance if they believe that early assessment is critical for the welfare of a significant number of animals in the impacted area.
Animal relief services
PIRSA’s Agriculture and Animal Services (AAS) provide initial relief services for animals affected by a major emergency. Call the AAS Hotline for assistance.
Key organisations that support PIRSA within the AAS are South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM), RSPCA SA, Animal Welfare League and Primary Producers SA.
Services provided to farmers and producers by AAS after an emergency can include:
- inspecting and assessing burnt/injured livestock
- advising on how to access veterinary services
- assisting with euthanasia of severely burnt/injured livestock on welfare grounds
- providing advice on disposal options for deceased livestock
- coordinating emergency fodder, water and fencing through Primary Producers SA.
Private veterinarians and clinics also play a critical role in the ongoing care of injured animals after an emergency.
Disposing of deceased animals
If you are dealing with deceased animals after an emergency, prompt disposal of the carcasses is vital to minimise any chance of disease - particularly when a large number of stock are involved.
PIRSA can provide advice on how to get assistance for stock carcass disposal.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) provides information on the methods and sites for the safe and legal disposal of animal carcasses.
Animal owners who are unable to dispose of carcasses themselves should seek help through neighbours, friends, community contacts or hire contractors. If these are not available, contact the local council.
Support for the disposal of deceased pets and smaller animals may be available from hired contractors, local veterinary clinics and the Animal Welfare League.
If you come across deceased wildlife or pest animals in the natural environment, you are advised to leave the bodies so they can decompose.
If you find deceased wildlife or pest animals on your property, prompt and appropriate disposal should occur. Contact the EPA or your local council for further information.
Reuniting owners and animals
Reuniting animals and owners as quickly as possible after an emergency assists in the recovery process. However, for safety reasons, access to your home or property may be delayed immediately after the emergency.
In many cases, residents and property owners will be able to enter an affected area before the general public. This is so they can protect their properties and/or livestock. Proof of identity or property ownership will be required in these cases.
As a result of the emergency, fences, gates and other enclosures holding animals may have been damaged. This can lead to animals straying onto other properties or roads, which creates safety and disease (biosecurity) issues.
Once you gain access to your property and, if it is safe to do so, search the area for any lost animals.
If you are unable to locate your animal(s) contact the following to see if they have been found and/or reported:
- the local council
- local animal shelters and veterinarians
- RSPCA SA and/or Animal Welfare League
The internet also has many lost and found sites (e.g. ‘Lost Pets of South Australia’ or ‘Lost Dogs of Adelaide’) if animals have not been located using other methods.
How to identify lost animals
If you find stray stock, check for National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) tags - PIRSA may be able to identify the animals and contact the owners.
If a lost animal is microchipped, local councils, SA Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM) and vets have microchip readers and may be able to assist.
Assistance dogs are microchipped and may have a special medallion with an identification number and an emergency contact number on their collar which will connect to the organisation that supports the dog/owner.
As animals may be highly stressed or injured and at risk from disease as a result of the emergency, it is recommended only volunteers with prior emergency training, or who are members of official response organisations (such as SAVEM), should assist with animal welfare during the response period.
Untrained volunteers can hinder initial response efforts, place themselves and others at risk, and unintentionally act illegally if they handle animals without the appropriate authorisation or training.
As the emergency recovery period can last months or a number of years, it is during this time that volunteers are needed the most.
How to register
The State Recovery Office coordinates recovery support services for people affected by emergencies in South Australia. You can register your skills with Volunteering SA and NT to assist with recovery efforts.
SA Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM) offers training in emergency management for vets and veterinary nurses interested in volunteering for emergency responses.
It is recommended to collect money rather than goods to assist those affected by an emergency, so that they can purchase what they need most. Spending money in their own communities also assists local businesses in their recovery. Check the various appeals established to assist following an emergency.
After fires and floods, emergency fodder is often required for livestock. Fodder donations are coordinated and distributed by Primary Producers SA, through Livestock SA.
Rehabilitating land to support livestock and wildlife
After an emergency you will often be faced with replacing destroyed infrastructure such as troughs, fences and feeding equipment, along with the restoration of pastures and natural areas.
You can support the rehabilitation process on your property by:
- removing contaminated waste
- stabilizing and replenishing soils
- managing stock grazing to enable vegetation/pasture recovery
- controlling pest plants and animals
- revegetating if needed.
Rural recovery programs to assist landowners with land and ecosystem rehabilitation are often developed after a large-scale emergency with the assistance of PIRSA, Department of Environment and Water (DEW), Natural Resources Management (NRM) Boards, local councils and environmental organisations.
Information on such programs are usually available at local recovery centres or through organisational websites.
- Bushfire information for primary producers (PIRSA)
- Caring for livestock during a heatwave (PIRSA)
- Caring for pets and livestock during a bushfire (CFS)
- Emergencies and safety information (SA.GOV.AU)
- Guidelines for Planning for People with Assistance Animals in Emergencies - under Part 3 (DPC)
- How to keep your animals safe during emergencies and disasters (RSPCA)
- How to keep your pets safe in an emergency (SES)
- Keeping your animals safe in a natural disaster: cyclones, storms and floods (AVA)
- Large animal rescue (Horse SA)
- Managing Animals in Emergencies - under Part 3 (DPC)
- My horse disaster plan (Horse SA)