How do pet owners plan for disasters in Latin America?

Hesterberg, U. W., Huertas, G., & Appleby, M. C. (2012). Perceptions of pet owners in urban Latin America on protection of their animals during disasters. Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal, 21(1), 37-50.

World Animal Protection (then WSPA) conducted a study to identify the perception of risk that pet owners have for their pets during potential disasters in urban Latin America. It explored their attitudes and plans towards disaster risk, and then showed the need to factor this element in official contingency plans, in order to avoid enhanced risk for that sector of the human population.

Pet owners (n=1882) in San Rafael, Costa Rica; Bogóta and Medellín, Colombia, and Guadalajara, Mexico were surveyed. The characteristics of the areas in the cities were carefully chosen to represent middle class Latin American urban environs, as these are thought to be most vulnerable to the impact of disasters. The owners were questioned on their demographics, pet numbers and details, experience of previous disasters, attitudes towards emergency planning and anticipated behaviour regarding their pets in a hypothetical disaster.  

Almost 75% of pet owners would definitely take their pets with them in a disaster

The majority of respondents owned dogs (almost 88%) and approximately 20% owned either cats or other pets. Almost 75% of the pet owners questioned said that they would take their pets with them if they were evacuated in an emergency or disaster. However, not all had a specific plan prepared, only 20% of respondents had an emergency plan for their animals. Interestingly owners who took their pets to the vets regularly were more likely to have a plan in place than those who didn’t.  Additionally, there were some differences between countries and socio-economic groups; Mexican owners were significantly more likely to leave their pets behind, as were owners in low socio-economic classes.

This study highlights the importance of including pets in emergency preparedness plans, particularly to aid with the evacuation and transport of pets from disaster areas. The fact that the majority of owners have intentions to take their pets with them, even if it risked their own safety, but do not have specific evacuation plans, shows the need to help owners prepare ahead of time. For example, future campaigns could encourage owners to discuss emergency plans with their vets, provide transport cages, and prepare checklists of transport facilities and planned destinations of animals. Importantly this study also found that more animals will be left behind, and be at greater risk, in lower socio-economic areas, therefore these areas should be prioritised in rescue efforts.

Author Gerardo Huertas said ‘This study is the first, and so far the only one of its kind. More follow-up research was carried out as a result of this study, about ideal versus real preparedness capacity of pet owners in similar environs in San Jose, Mexico City and Veracruz, to help identify the risk management gaps and successful ways to solve them.  This paper therefore, served as the starting point for exciting future work in mega cities around the world.’

World Animal Protection view

Since 2008, World Animal Protection has been working in countries across Latin America and Asia to reduce the risk to livestock and pets from the impact of disasters. This study shows the importance of understanding the perceptions and behaviour of pet owners with respect to disasters, and what role this should play in contingency plans for pets.