Pet Ownership As a Component of Psychosocial Resilience to Disaster: An Exploratory Study in West Moors, Dorset, United Kingdom
Mai, Sahrah Gwendoline
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When disaster strikes, the focus of disaster management is on protecting the lives of humans and there is little or no provision for the welfare of animals. This approach, as well as denying animals protection as fellow sentient beings, fails to take into consideration the importance of animals to humans, particularly where there is a strong bond such as between an owner and their pet. Pet ownership influences health and wellbeing with consequences for individual psychosocial resilience. Pet ownership also influences social capital which is a key component of resilience at community level and has consequences for wider society. However, while there is growing literature on these various elements, research making links between them remains scarce. Using the United Kingdom as case study and through thematic analysis of interviews conducted with five pet owners and three emergency management practitioners, this dissertation explores links between pet ownership, health and wellbeing, social capital and psychosocial resilience. The objectives were to explore the strengths and weaknesses of pet ownership in the face of disasters and identify implications for policy and practices geared towards Disaster Risk Management (DRM). The findings agree with those of earlier studies that pets are part of the family and the relationship between owner and pet can be as close as between humans. Pet ownership and the presence of a pet in the community positively influence social capital, while distress at the death or loss of a pet has a negative effect on the psychosocial resilience of the owner and on others in the owner’s social networks. Distress and grief may lead to mental illness including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and/or lowered social capital, both of which have consequences for community resilience. In a disaster, pet ownership can be a protective factor, for example through the security and comfort of pet’s presence, but can constitute risk where people refuse to evacuate in a disaster if their pets cannot be evacuated with them. The study considers implications of the findings for policy and practices geared towards DRM and concludes that there is a need to protect pets in a disaster, for their own sakes and as a way of safeguarding human health and wellbeing. Keywords: disaster, pet ownership, pet, wellbeing, psychosocial resilience, social capital, community