Broadcaster and former Silver Fern Jenny-May Coffin loves dogs so much that growing up, she wanted to become a vet. “But then I realised that pets die and they get hurt. I didn’t have the stomach to see that, so that idea went out the window,” she says with a wry smile. The TV One sports commentator and former police officer was 27 when her first dog, a boxer named Taz, was killed after being hit by a car. “I cried for a whole week,” recalls Jenny-May. But it also showed her that she didn’t have the right disposition to become a vet, so she looked for another way to work with animals.
The 40-year-old has become the face of a new campaign by the World Animal Protection organisation to keep pets safe during a natural disaster. Jenny-May says that too often our pets are the forgotten casualties. She’s encouraging all animal lovers to keep their pets safe by actioning a disaster plan for them. She says it’s just as important as keeping a civil emergency survival kit.
“Our pets can be our closest companions and that’s a powerful thing. If you’re not into animals or if you don’t have an affinity with them, then it might be hard to understand,” says Jenny-May. “When disasters like the earthquakes in Christchurch occur, and it’s on the news, one thing we don’t hear about is the pets. Of course, the human element and loss is very important, but the loss of a pet can be just as painful for animal lovers. People may have lost their homes, and even their loved ones – losing a pet just adds to their trauma.”
With more than 50 years’ experience helping animals in disasters around the globe, World Animal Protection has seen many people put themselves at risk by refusing to evacuate their homes unless they can take their animals too. Disaster planning packs, which are available to download, provide simple and practical advice to keep all pets – including dogs, cats, mice, fish and birds – safe during a disaster and explain what to do if owners have to evacuate their homes.
When Jenny-May thinks about the heartache of losing a pet, she recalls her father Waka (80) and the emotion he felt when another of her dogs, Max, died six years ago. Through the years, her father and her mother Paddy (73) have taken care of Auckland-based Jenny-May’s dogs on their family farm in the King Country town of Piopio.
“Dad had such a strong connection with Max and when he died, my father was devastated. Suddenly, his best mate was gone and we had never seen Dad like that before,” Jenny-May tells. As she had with her other pets, Jenny-May gave Max a funeral and then buried him alongside their other deceased family dogs, Taz and Boombi, in a special plot on the farm that overlooks the paddocks.
Jenny-May found the best remedy to help ease her father’s pain was to buy another boxer – which was named Jay. The pair bonded immediately and six years on, Jay has become an important addition to the whanau.
Jenny-May says that her dogs are her best friends and she visits them whenever she can. She also admits to confiding in them, telling them her deepest secrets, knowing that they won’t tell a soul. That’s why there is an action plan in place to make sure Jay is safe if disaster strikes.
This is the second campaign that Jenny-May has helped World Animal Protection to promote. Two years ago, she travelled to the Philippines to observe the organisation’s rabies eradication programme. She was in the Philippines just weeks before Typhoon Haiyan, the country’s deadliest disaster, which killed more than 6000 people.
“We need to be prepared. We live in a world where we think that this will not happen to us or our pets,” she tells. “I think we take for granted how much our pets mean to us. We do not realise how much joy they bring to our lives until they are no longer with us.”
What to do in an emergency
If a disaster strikes, protect your animals by:
- Watching your pets closely. Keep them under your direct control. They may become disoriented, particularly if the disaster has affected scent markers that normally allow them to find their homes.
- Being aware of hazards at nose, paw or hoof level – particularly debris, spilled chemicals, fertilisers and other substances that might not seem dangerous to humans.
- Watching for changes in their behaviour. They may become aggressive or defensive, so be aware of their wellbeing and keep them close in order to ensure the safety of them and other people.
For more information, visit protectyourpet.worldanimalprotection.org.nz.