Most researchers can draw a point out of their existing field of study to something in their past that lit the spark–an engineer who had a knack for fixing things, an economics professor who was always good with numbers.
For Sarah DeYoung, a core faculty member in the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center and assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, that moment came in a really early age and developed into a very particular area of research that mirrored her experiences.
Her family lived close to a landfill in western North Carolina where people would ditch animals that they no longer desired, leaving them stranded in the end of a dirt street.
“My parents would take the cats or dogs and bring them to the shelter. It kind of became almost routine for us. So animal welfare has always been a part of my life,” DeYoung said.
Over the years she became a full-blown monster fan, participate in animal advocacy campaigns like spay and neuter events and had several pets of her own.
But it was only in DeYoung was working on her postdoc at UD with Ashley Farmer, then a graduate student, that it all came together.
“We were both analyzing some open-ended hurricane data from a project,” DeYoung said. “At the end of the survey, a lot of the respondents were saying,”One thing that you forgot to ask me my pets” There were questions about health and income and all of these other factors, but a lot of people were indicating that their decisions about the hurricane in that particular research setting were led by their animals. We thought that was really interesting. We kind of kept it in the back of our mind. And then when Hurricane Irma and Harvey happened, we were both faculty members by then and we launched our research.”
That research gets a in depth look in”All Creatures Safe and Sound: The Social Landscape of Pets in Disasters,” a new book co-authored by DeYoung and Farmer (now a professor at Illinois State University), due to be published June 21.
The book is the result of years of study which has been established by a National Science Foundation grant which allowed DeYoung and Farmer to deploy and gather data for seven different leading disasters in the United States from 2017 via 2019. Those disasters comprised multiple hurricanes, a Hawaii lava flow, several wildfires in California along with the geographical range spanning from the Carolinas to Florida and Texas and California and Hawaii.
DeYoung recently answered a few questions about the book and her analysis of pet direction during crises.
Q: What is the impetus for your book?
DeYoung: During Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, my co-author, Ashley Farmer and I had been watching and reading a lot of news stories about people who either purposefully or inadvertently left their animals behind in floodwaters. There were dogs tied to trees or lampposts or just left in floodwaters. Though the Pets Act [which authorized FEMA to provide rescue, care, shelter and essential needs for individuals with household pets and service animals] was passed 2006, after Hurricane Katrina, this nevertheless remained an extremely visible and pressing issue. We decided to write a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation to gather additional data.
Q: For most humans, pets are almost on the exact same level with children and a family. It seems strange that we’d even need strategies for pet management in a disaster. Why do you believe there’s this blind spot?
DeYoung: A lot of people do see pets as family, but there’s, clearly, a variation in the levels of bonding and affection people have with companion animals, and that varies from household to household. There’s also a disconnect because crisis supervisors or other decision makers that are planning for and reacting to disasters do not always automatically see pets as necessary or members of their family. It is really up to the people in charge of that particular disaster or sheltering scenario to make sure there are arrangements for evacuation and sheltering of people with companion animals.
Q: How could pet evacuation and direction disagree during a hurricane or fire or an earthquake?
DeYoung: That has a lot to do with the timing of the event and how fast the disaster arrives in a community, because it would with a wildfire. Obviously, the decision making must be compacted into a really brief period. Folks have moments or perhaps only a matter of seconds to decide how they are going to evacuate and what they are going to bring with them. And, in a hurricane, people normally have occasionally up to a week of advance notice, due to meteorological models and calling. However there continue to be cases where, in a hurricane, a person didn’t recognize their neighborhood was in a flood zone. And so they would go to work, or they would visit a friend’s home, and while they were off, the flood would happen. And unfortunately, there were instances where an animal would not make it. Obviously, the owner of the creature would be devastated in these cases. So that the rate of onset in addition to the flood zone was really significant.
Q: What was something that stunned you while you’re performing the field work with this particular book?
DeYoung: Something that amazed me was the degree and the extent to which people go to engage in heroic acts to save animals. Occasionally even creatures that are not their own. Folks might remain behind in a hurricane to feed a colony of feral or wild cats, or occasionally people will rescue their neighbor’s dogs during flood. There were cases of people spending hours at the burn zone after the significant wildfires to trap cats which were displaced from their neighborhoods. A lot of people engaged in epic activities, which shouldn’t be surprising since we know that people often help each other in crises and emergency events, but it was still rather moving for us to document and to observe.
Q: What are some of the things people can do before a disaster to get ready and mitigate the risks to themselves and their pets?
DeYoung: I think that it’s vital for people to be aware of how complicated it may be, and also try to do whatever they can to boost the chance of reunification. Matters like microchipping, obtaining a current photograph of the creature or having things which you would desire for evacuation at a very obvious spot–cat carriers in a closet by the door, or leashes and dog kennels in a really accessible location, such as alongside the vehicle in the garage in order when the evacuation happens it is nearby. This way, you’re not asking yourself,”Where did I put those things?” That ended up being a very major issue that we saw time and time again.
Q: Obviously, having accommodation choices that will enable pets is crucial to the safety and survival of the pet and owner. Is there anything which can encourage these businesses to allow pets when a disaster occurs?
DeYoungWe watched a lot of rumors on social media, during each catastrophe. There would be false information spread that lands or hotels have to accept pets. And that’s not really true. But we do urge that it’d be good for resort PR to temporarily waive some of their constraints during an emergency scenario. We think it’s going to be better for their organization. We understand that there are additional costs associated with that, such as cleaning. But we feel that the advantage far outweighs any losses incurred. Because, again, it is fantastic for public relations for companies that choose to reevaluate the pet fees or to loosen the restrictions during mandatory evacuation or disaster event. There should be more incentives for renters or landlords specifically to allow renters to bring pets to change those restrictions in an area or a state that has had a significant disaster. Long-term housing recovery was a really major issue in Hawaii and California, since a lot of the properties available for tenants after disasters have quite particular pet restrictions. That prevented individuals from finding housing and then they had to concede the creature after the disaster.
Q: What did you find in your study related to the positive role of social networking in animal rescue efforts?
DeYoung: In the book we t