New Kiwi charity to ensure no animals left behind in natural disasters

When heavy rain and flooding swamped Edgecumbe in the Bay of Plenty last year, about 1600 people were evacuated.

But there was another group that authorities largely ignored.

"Over 1000 animals were left behind in that township and there was no real plan to get them out," says Steve Glassey, who led the SPCA's response during the disaster.

"Without the response from those volunteers, hundreds of animals would have probably perished. So that showed us that we need to do better for future emergencies."

The former Wellington SPCA chief executive is heeding the call by setting up Animal Evac New Zealand Trust.

The charity, which is only a few weeks old, is the only organisation in the country with a core focus of saving animals caught up in disasters.

Mr Glassey says animals - especially pets - are often overlooked during disasters by authorities, which typically focus on people and property.

"You wouldn't leave your children behind and for some people, their pets are their children," he explains.

More than 20 years ago, Mr Glassey founded the Wellington SPCA's animal rescue unit, which was the first-of-its-kind in the country and eventually led to the nation rescue unit.

Through this work Mr Glassey saw animals suffer in events like the Kaikoura and Christchurch earthquakes, during which people were stranded with pets - or the pets themselves were abandoned.

However the Animal Evac New Zealand Trust isn't just about pets.

Evidence shows people are more likely to follow instructions and evacuate during disasters if their pets can come with them.

As Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans in 2005, many people refused to evacuate.

A survey into the response found 44 percent of people who chose to stay put did so because government evacuators refused to help evacuate their pets too.

"People are likely to put themselves at risk. They're likely to breach and go back into cordons," Mr Glassey said.

"This happened in Christchurch, this happened in Edgecumbe - so if we evacuate pets, we're actually going to be saving people."

Mr Glassey opened a bank account for Animal Evac New Zealand Trust last week, but says already more than 100 vets, humanitarian aid workers, Civil Defence workers and volunteers have put their hands up to help establish a nationwide response network.

The charity will first focus on pets, but wants to expand to advocate for all animals that are vulnerable or affected by disasters, with a goal of attracting 300 volunteers.

Donations can be made to Animal Evac New Zealand Trust via Give-a-Little here. 


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