Mental-emotional toll on people who have to part ways with their furry companions in a crisis situation can be detrimental, experts say.
Extreme life events can result in some pet owners having to leave their furry companions behind. While veterinarians and animal associations have sought to raise awareness about the anxiety such separation causes in pets, the effects of such episodes on humans have been little studied.
Now, new research shows that separation from a pet can also have serious consequences for the people concerned. The experts behind this study, published in the journal Anthrozoös, came to this conclusion after reviewing 40 scientific studies on the attitudes of people in crisis situations towards their pets.
Indeed, pets are so important to their owners that many refuse to flee danger without taking them with them, or without first ensuring their safety.
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While this emotional dependence testifies to the powerful bond between the worlds of humans and animals, it can unfortunately complicate crisis management. For example, victims of domestic violence are often reluctant to flee the family home because of their pets.
“In many cases of domestic violence, there is evidence to suggest that people will delay leaving their relationship to protect their pet. This is often due to a lack of shelters or housing places that can accommodate pets, or a lack of trust placed in formal support systems that they won’t be separated from their pet,” explained Jasmine Montgomery, co-author of the research.
Worse still, the perpetrator of domestic violence can sometimes use the pet as leverage to force the victim not to alert the authorities. “In those cases, victims can be lured back by the perpetrator, which places significant risk to their safety as well,” Montgomery added.
Domestic violence isn’t the only circumstance in which a pet parent may have to make a tough decision: armed conflicts and natural disasters can lead people to go to great lengths to ensure the safety of their animals, too.
In 2015, the United Nations refugee agency published a video on Facebook in which a Syrian refugee recounts how he walked the hundreds of km between Damascus and the Greek island of Lesbos in the company of his dog, Rose.
But not all pet owners are able to take their little companions with them as they flee, which can plunge them into great psychological distress. This is why Montgomery and her colleagues urge public authorities to take greater account of the fate of pets in crisis management, by facilitating, for example, the evacuation of animals in the event of conflict or natural disaster.
“Often, it’s expected people will choose human interests over animals at all costs, without consideration of the shared human-animal bond. What we need to start doing is taking our pets, and the value of our pets, very seriously,” she concluded.