Returning home from a full-day hike, we were greeted at the door by an anxious Pettigrew. Just a few steps into the house I was down on my knees while Pettigrew rubbed against me, circling, pacing, and pushing against my hands as I patted and stroked his ears and body. It took a while before he could relax.
He is unsettled by disruptions to his schedule.
Knowing how easily Pettigrew is unmoored, I find myself thinking of all the animals displaced by the recent natural disasters: the fires in California, hurricane Harvey in Texas, and hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida.
CNN reported that the animals in the Miami Zoo were going to shelter in place in fortified buildings that had been erected after the last major storm leveled the zoo. The staff had found previous efforts to move the animals caused excessive stress and, between the effects of the stress and the storm path’s unpredictability, they determined that staying put was the best option.
My Florida cousin moved inland to a friend’s house to avoid the worst of Irma. Our conversation covered the storm shutters he had placed over his windows, the backups he had made of his important documents, and his concern about his cats. Although he couldn’t imagine leaving them behind, they were traumatized by being taken from their home and were huddled together, refusing to leave the room.
And then of course there are the animals we have been reading about in Houston. Floating atop air mattresses or wedged into kayaks. Being dragged out of their flooded homes by their families. Often their next stop is a noisy, chaotic shelter with lots of other animals and people.
I certainly don’t want to minimize the impact on humans, who must both plan the routes to safety and then cope with the mess that is left when the storm clears. But we do have one important coping mechanism not available to our animal friends. We understand why we are being displaced and we make choices about how to prepare.
When we displace our animals, not only do they sense our apprehension and are forced to deal with a new environment, but they have no explanation, no warning, no say in what is happening to them.
In many ways I think animals are like toddlers. When our boys were little they struggled with transitions. Given that time had no meaning for them, we ultimately would ask them to choose their last thing to do before we ended an activity. By giving them this choice, they had some autonomy.
I believe it is hardest to be resilient when we feel out of control, not knowing what is happening or why. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out a way of letting Pettigrew know it is time to choose his last thing.
If you want to give to the Humane Societies Disaster Relief Fund to help animals in urgent need, you can click here https://secure.humanesociety.org/site/Donation2?df_id=23944&mfc_pref=T&23944.donation=form1&s_src=ad_gg_search_nonbrand_082817_redirect_22819