Anyone who owns or has owned a pet knows the comfort that they bring in times of crisis. As the California Campfire still persists, there are hundreds of people working together in many different ways to save the animals left behind, and whenever possible reunite them with their owners. Many people were able to evacuate with their pets, keeping them from a horrible fate, some were not so lucky. You can see the devastation on the news and hear it in the interviews journalists are having with the victims. As the death toll for both human and animal lives increase, let’s take a look at the helpers and why they risk their lives to save the animals we so dearly love. The first step in prosocial behavior is when a person notices the crisis. In recent years we have seen many natural disasters; coming to the aid of animals has become the social-responsibility norm.
It’s easy to define a natural disaster as an emergency and for people to take responsibility for helping others. People have different talents and help in different ways. In animal rescue there are several ways to help and being part of something much bigger, people are more inclined to to do so. People who help animals in need are often intrinsically motivated. Most people can remember a time when they were going through a personal crisis and had a pet to comfort them. People view pets as part of the family who provide unconditional love. When we see animals suffer, we often look to our own pets and see the similarity. We know that “familiarity breeds compassion” (Myers and Twenge pg 396) which motivates people with pets want to help. We can feel empathy for the pet owner and animal that have been separated. When you look through photos of the rescue efforts (google images “california wildfire animal rescue”) you will see gender roles as well. Men tend to help in disasters because it gives them the thrill of adventure so you will often find them at ground zero bringing animals into the shelters. Women often look at animals and babies in the same context of being helpless and are more likely to nurture and care for them.
In rescue efforts you will often see the men in the field putting their lives at risk. Women are more likely to be on the end of providing emergency medical care and finding places for them to go. Animal rescue is a great example of a collectivism. Most people who work in rescue are volunteers. Volunteers see the bigger picture. With the CA campfire you see other organizations stepping up to do what they can to help. Alaska Airlines has stepped up to help move animals out of Los Angeles County to the Seattle Humane Society in Washington State (WIldfire forces California shelters to send animals to Washington, 2018). Seattle Humane Society is doing everything they can to adopt out pets currently in their care to make room for the incoming overflow from CA. During a crisis it is imperative that the team works as a cohesive unit. There are several steps in the intake process. First the animal arrives at the dedicated crisis station. Next a trained medical professional will evaluate the animal to determine what level of care is needed. This is typically done by a Veterinarian Technicians because the Veterinarian is usually treating more critical cases. Once the Tech assess the animal they will go into one of three categories, critical, non-critical and healthy.
The critical animals will be taken to be seen by a Vet as soon as possible. The non-critical are usually sent to be treated for minor injuries by trained first aid providers and Vet Techs when available (most Techs are with the Vets in the critical units). The healthy animals are usually moved to an area where they will be held for identification and reunification. Without rescues collectivist culture these large scale rescue efforts would not be possible. Another much needed aspect of rescuing animals on such a large scale that we see in the CA wildfires is the financial need. Even though most of the people that are helping are volunteers, supplies still cost money. There is a large need for medical supplies, food, blankets, cleaning supplies and housing. Often times in these situations you will see a large number of people exhibit diffusion of responsibility. This is typically when you will see organizations reaching out for help appealing to one’s guilt. It’s easy to turn the TV off or shut the computer. However, when you hear someone talk about being reunited with their pet and how it wouldn’t have been possible without financial support from outside of the area, it makes it much harder to say no. Guilt is a great motivator to get people to help that are removed from the event.
Helping is not always easy. Everyone has their own either internal or external reasons for doing so. With the devastation that we are seeing caused by the wildfires, it really is hard not to get involved unless you allow egoism to get in the way. Animal rescue is messy, it will break your heart and has very little external rewards. Most of the time you will walk away knowing that someone was able to take their pet home and provide them comfort which isn’t something you can hold in your hand. The good news is that most people in the rescue community use it to self identify. This is who they are, not what they do.
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