A coffee with Stephen Brassett: the longest walk NZ


It was humbling to have such a nice article written by Stephen Brassett, The Longest Walk NZ founder and blogger. Everyone can make a difference to animal welfare, and we all often do, let it be choosing SPCA blue tick products at the supermarket, volunteering with their local animal rehoming group such as HUHA or CPL, signing petitions against rodeo, to being vegan. Stephen’s contribution in my opinion is massive. To have walked the entire length of the country to raise awareness on animal welfare is something that I and of the greatest animal welfarists could never do. Even William Wilberforce (one of the founders of the UK RSPCA) would have been pushed to have done what Stephen has done! So thank you Stephen for such kind words and it was a pleasure working with a professional writer who has strong ethics.

Check out his article from our conversation here.


Want to know more about animal emergency management?


Photo: Stewart Rae (left), me (right) 

I started with the SPCA at the age of 13 years. My parent’s wouldn’t let me have a dog, so each week I had the joy of caring for a kennel full at the Manawatu RSPCA based in Palmerston North. I had amazing and trusting mentors including Margaret Gibbons, Priscilla Shipton and Val Chandler. It was while I was at high school that I then got involved in civil defence rescue and had other great mentors like Neil Webb and Sue Petronelli. Little did they or I know, that they all had sewn the seeds for me to follow both a career in animal welfare as well as emergency management, and that these two careers would merge into an opportunity to become a world leading researcher at the University of Otago doing my PhD in the specialised area of animal disaster management.


Photo: Ritchie Dawson and myself carry out a cliff rescue (old dodgy school days, before NRU!)

Needless to say, I have spent years of my life seeing what is available out there to improve one’s understanding of animal disaster management, and to save you decades of trial or error (and my mistakes!), after mentoring many people also in this space, it was clear that I came back to a common recipe for development and success. So I have created an Animal Emergency Management 101 blog post that outlines some (mostly free) activities to grow your interest in animal emergency management. So whether you are an emergency manager, veterinary professional, fire/rescue officer or whatever, here is my steps to get a handle on animal emergency management whether you are in New Zealand, USA or anywhere else in the world.

I hope you find it useful. Feedback welcome.

Hawaii eruption: What pet owners need to know

Hawaii is no different: owners will return for their pets.

There is a growing volume of empirical evidence that suggests that where ever there has been mandatory evacuations and animals (in particular pets or companion animals) have been left behind, that the owners will risk their own lives and covertly or overtly breach cordons to rescue their pets.

The eruption of the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island on Hawaii has led to evacuations of over 1,700 people who are at risk from lava flow and other volcanic hazards.

Brad Stanfill said the lava was more than 5 kilometres from his house but he was not allowed in because of a mandatory evacuation order. He was frustrated because he wanted to feed his rabbits and dogs and check on his property (Stuff, 2018).

As disaster management scholars Erik Auf der Heide, Drabek, Quarantelli and Dynes have all wisely said in regards to likely vs. correct behaviour:

Emergency planning is about designing plans on what people are likely to do… Plans are much easier to change than human behaviour.

The correct behaviour that emergency officials want is for people to conform to their instructions and accept animals are not as important as humans. However, this futile and outdated mindset fails to consider the likely behaviour of animal owners and animal rights groups who will put themselves in harms way to save disaster at risk animals.

Therefore, if an evidence informed approach to emergency management is to be followed, failing to protect animals in disaster will compromise the safety of people.

Tips for keeping pets safe

Before an eruption

  • Ensure you have a family emergency plan that includes your animals
  • Ensure all your pets are microchipped
  • If you pet has as collar, ensure it has identification tag with a mobile phone number on it (no your residential land line as you may not be able to get home in an emergency)
  • Ensure you have several photos (particular face) of your pet
  • Save animal records (veterinary, vaccinations, insurance, photos etc) to cloud storage/email
  • Have a pet evacuation kit
    • pet carrier/crate for each animal
    • Ensure each dog has a muzzle available so they can be handled by officials
    • Vaccination/de-worming records
    • Food and water
    • Leash for each dog
    • brushes
    • Familiar toy/blanket
    • Sanitation supplies (cleaner, wipes, poo bags, kitty litter etc)

If an eruption is possible

  • Bring your pets indoors and prepare for evacuation
    • toilet cats inside so you can easily find them in case of evacuation
    • ensure you have suitable transportation available and ready
  • Ensure you are subscribed to local warning systems
  • Monitor the news for updates
  • Confirm alternative pet friendly accommodation for your family
    • this could be with other family or pet friendly hotels etc
  • Consider evacuating early – evacuating with animals can be time consuming

If an eruption is imminent or in progress

  • Keep your animals out of low lying areas (where toxic volcanic gases can accumulate)
  • Pet jackets may be useful to minimising contamination from volcanic ash
  • Always ensure your pets are not loose inside a vehicle when evacuating
  • Ensure water given is not contaminated by ash
  • If you animals become contaminated by volcanic ash
    • contact your veterinarian for advice
    • brush off excess ash outside (under shelter)
    • check eyes for contamination, flush with water if needed
    • place ash and other contaminated waste into sealed plastic bag
  • If your animal starts to have difficulties breathing, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • Evacuate early and if you think you need assistance, ask for this as early as possible

Other useful information

Information on the hazards of volcanic ash can be viewed here.

Information on the impact of volcanic ash on livestock can be viewed here.

#kileaua #volcano #kileauavolcano #kileauaeruption

Fugate: “Animals are people”

The most inspirational emergency management speaker I have ever had the pleasure of listening to live, has to be FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. It was at the Department of Homeland Security’s Science Summit in Washington DC back in 2011 and he left a marked impression on what and who we should have and expect from anyone as National Disaster Management Officer in a developed country.

He knew the business and called BS on the myths and out-dated assumptions, one of which is that any incident management system (NIMS, ICS, CIMS etc.) was finite by definition and that without empowering communities to act outside that system, catastrophic events would continue to challenge us.

Later in 2014, he gave a talk at the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs which has been uploaded to YouTube (below).

There now is a PDF transcript of this compelling 40 minute talk.

Transcript: 2014 NASAAEP Summit FEMA Director Craig Fugate

If you are an public safety professional, you need to view the video or read the transcript. It sums up nicely why animal emergency management is critical to human safety. 

Storms and pig dog rescues

The last few days have seen a deluge of rain across the nation, in particular in the Bay of Plenty and the Coromandel. The rainfall led to the state of emergency being declared for the area of Ngongotaha by the Mayor of Rotorua on the evening of 29 April 2018.

It was encouraging to see that Rotorua Animal Control were activated to assist and I applaud them for responding. However, the advice for evacuees was vague saying “Animal Control is ready at the emergency welfare centre ready to assess and animals that also need evacuating” and some members of the community were unsure what to do (see facebook thread below), whereas it would be best practice to advise evacuees:

“If its not safe for you, its not safe for them. Always evacuate with your pets. Our evacuation centre accepts pets”


One media article at the end commented “We’ll look after your pets… Just take your essentials” (pets are essentials!). Sadly, this was the exact advice that some officials gave during Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of animals died as they could not be rescued in time. One very disturbing case was law enforcement officers said the same, but their interpretation of “looking after the pets” was to slaughter them with their firearms.

Even today, both the SPCA NZ and World Animal Protection on Facebook provided advice including “If you have to leave your pets behind…” and this is the advice animal disaster experts have been trying to discourage as it normalises forced abandonment, degrades the concept of responsible ownership, fails to recognise that pets are part of the family (and that family units should evacuate and remain together for psychosocial support), and puts both animals at risk and humans who attempt to rescue them. If they are left behind, who then is legally responsible for their welfare? No one? the owner still? Fire Service? Civil Defence? SPCA? MPI? Police?

We wouldn’t say “If you have to leave your children behind…”, so it is imperative that animal welfare organisations are the voice for the animals using current best practice to inform public messaging.

As the former head of FEMA, Administrator Craig Fugate has said “animals are people, they are not separate…pets are part of the family”. I don’t know any emergency manager in New Zealand that would be more highly regarded and experienced than Craig.

The old message was “evacuate or you will die!”, but leave enough food and water for your pets – Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator

This contradictory and specieist statement sums it up nicely and Fugate goes on to say “As a basic rule in most disasters, we should never tell people not to evacuate with their pets”. You can see more wise words from Craig below.

Now, we move onto the dog that is stuck 150m down a gorge. The owner attempted to rescue it, but needed rescuing himself. Fire & Emergency NZ rescued the owner, but was not able to rescue the dog. At this point, you may think I am going to have a crack at FENZ, actually no. A scared pig dog is the last thing firefighters are trained to deal with, just as SPCA Rescue Technicians are not trained to put out large structure fires. I actually commend them for making a risk assessment and acknowledging their limitations.

My only caveat is that animal rescues are just as critical as human rescues. I say this because it is sadly too common for caring humans to put themselves at risk to save an animals life.

The sooner the animal is saved, the sooner you remove the risk of a human putting themselves at risk. In Operation Poppy I commanded two years ago, a bystander was adamant that he could swim across the swollen rising river to save the horse and the Police had to be called to remove him. In other cases, the people have died trying to save animals or saving those who have tried to save animals including the Gaylene Dunn of Masterton and police officer Mike Toon in Palmerston North respectively, just in the past few years. And this behaviour happens around the world such as in Canada, where a person died trying to rescue their friends dog from an iced lake.

Finally, we also had the dog was electrocuted by lightening during the storm. Our animal welfare laws do not keep pace with international best practice in regards to animal disaster management. In the state of Texas, it is illegal to tether a dog outside during extreme weather (Texas Code 821.077). This sad (but avoidable) incident, could have been avoided if there was improved awareness by owners that companion animals should be taken inside (and other animals equally afforded reasonable protection too) during storms. There is even a table comparing US state laws on dog tethering.

We have failed the animals yet again by not heeding the lessons of previous disasters.

So in New Zealand, we still have more to do to meet best practice with evacuation messaging. In fact we have a lot more to do in the wider programme of animal emergency management, across all phases from reduction, readiness, response and recovery. Further information on how to be prepared can be found on my earlier blog.

Hopefully, agencies and organisations can invest more time and resource into this area, so that all the family is better prepared for the next event. I certainly put my hand up to offer advice to make sure we can do better, we all should.



Ethics approval granted

With the support of my supervisors, I have been granted approval to proceed with my research by the University of Otago’s Human Ethics Committee (18/050). This means I can start with the online survey of residents and then undertake semi-structured interviews of on the ground responders, both as part of data collection for my research evaluating the animal emergency response to the Edgecumbe 2017 flood.

Residents will shortly be recruited using social media and if required additional marketing can be deployed to encourage additional engagement.


Hurricane Harvey research makes cover of special edition

I was humbled today with my research article being chosen as the issue cover and cover story to introduce the ANIMALS special edition on animal behaviour and natural disasters. Having looked at the other amazing research contributions in the issue, I am stoked. So thank you very much to the editorial team at ANIMALS for the opportunity to give my article some additional exposure.


Hurricane Harvey research published

Late in 2017, I conducted a field trip to the state of Texas to interview key players involved in the response to Hurricane Harvey.

My latest article “Did Harvey learn from Katrina? Initial observations of the response to companion animals during Hurricane Harvey” has now been published by the journal Animals.

A special thanks to all those who hosted me and shared their experiences.


During Hurricane Harvey (Houston, TX)


After Hurricane Harvey (Houston, TX), December 2017



The PhD journey begins

Thanks for joining me!


I left the SPCA in late 2017 after being the final CEO for Wellington SPCA prior to the national merger. Only months earlier, I had lead the largest animal rescue operation in our country’ history as head of SPCA Rescue following the Edgecumbe floods. There were many lessons to be learnt and this event was a key motivator to embark on my PhD with Otago to provide the first major domestic study of a companion animal disaster response with a view to evaluate laws and practices to afford better protection to these animals and their human guardians. “Its been a real privilege to be supported by Otago University with a scholarship to immerse myself in this topic. I thought I had a good grasp of the subject before I started, but I am finding out new areas that have never been researched before, especially around animal disaster law and the incident management of animal emergencies. Having three supervisors from very different backgrounds (sociology, bioethics, and law) is adding huge value to my research and it is growing my critical thinking and challenging some of my own assumptions. I have found my supervisors and support staff (especially from the library) amazing and I am stoked to be doctoral candidate at the University of Otago.

How to really protect yourself from a dog attack


I was watching the AM Show on TV3 this morning which had veterinarian Dr Alex Melrose giving advice on how to protect yourself from a dog attack. It is great this conversation is happening, but having been an Animal Control Officer that routinely dealt with dangerous dogs outside of a vet clinic, I have more practical advice than “be a tree” which is a bite prevention programme mainly aimed at children (but still good advice).

First of all, most attacks are not reported and are from dogs of friends or family. Dogs that are habitually chained up in the back yard are highly likely to be un-socialised and territorial. Simply keep away from these! In many countries such tethering practices are illegal and New Zealand needs to follow suit to improve both animal control and animal welfare of dogs. Even if the dog is well socialised, introduce new people to them, and show people especially younger people how to behave around them (for example some dogs are food protective, so don’t got near their food bowl). Maintain supervision and keep excitement levels down.

Many other dog attacks are from the dog being territorial. Most dog attacks occur within a 100m of the property, and the more often a dog is allowed to roam, the more it extends its territorial boundary. This is why wandering dogs should be reported to local animal control and why it should be an issue dog owners take seriously. I have seen teeth gnashing dogs spitting at the mouth turn into placid puppies (not quite but by comparison they were), by simply removing them from their territorial area, let it be a property or vehicle.

Prevention is the best cure for dog attacks. If you are going onto a property look for signs of dog occupancy such as bones, chew toys, grass damage, scratching marks, kennels, dog signage and the obvious dog poop. Upon approaching the property, if it has a gate rattle it or the latch first and wait. If you are routinely going onto people’s property like a courier for example, wear a baseball cap so you can quickly deploy a bite object to put in front of you. If rushed at, you want to leave the dog’s territory so you are no longer a threat. Back away slowly and put an object between you and dog such as your baseball cap (wave it around with an extended hand), bag, clipboard, coat or even a shoe (not so helpful if you are a tog wearing lifeguard!). I used my bag once to shield myself from an aggressive street dog in Laos, which is known for rabies – thank goodness I always carried a bag! When knocking on a door (which often triggers a dog to rush toward the door and bark i.e. “someone’s coming into my territory!”, have something ready again to put between you and the door, but remember that often dogs will hear the knock at the door while at the rear of the property and come rushing toward the front from the side of the house. This happened to me when making an enquiry to a dangerous dog complaint and a large Rottweiler came hurtling around from the back of the property trapping me between the doorway and itself – since then I would knock on the door, then take a few steps backward and scan for side threats too!

Despite being a dog lover, when I was working in Ambulance it was common to go inside to people’s home when they were injured and sick, often in pain. Dogs pick up on their owners distress and want to be protective. Owners often are offended to have it suggested their dog could bite someone, so the most diplomatic way to deal with this is say “Sorry, I am really allergic to animals, could you put him in another room please”. This way, you are not suggesting their dog is dangerous and most people are very understanding when this tactic is deployed (no one wants a sneezing paramedic while inserting needles!).

Make sure you report any incidents to local animal control as the next person including a child may not be so lucky. Local animal control have the power to classify dogs as dangerous or menacing, and this can require owners to take additional measures to keep the public safe, such as muzzling in a public place or improve fencing requirements.

And despite German Shepherds being the culprits from two out of the three dog attacks I have survived, every breed is capable of attacking, they just have different calibre teeth.