In Australia, the birds are starting to sing, flowers are emerging from their wintry sleep and baby animals hop, skip and jump through the fields....well at least the weather is getting warmer as we head into spring. Summer is just around the corner too. After living in North America for the last 14 months I am looking forward to coming back to an Australian summer. I've missed the BBQs, the beach and the 40+ degree days. However summer is not all sunshine and lollipops. With the heat comes the threat of bushfires in many parts if Australia. As the impact of draughts and global warming affect the sun burnt country more each year, we are urged to have a plan should bushfire strike.
PETA (www.peta.org), the world's largest animal rights organisation, reminds us to ensure our bushfire plans also include our pets. Here are their recommendations:
• Know your destination ahead of time. Although human shelters often refuse animals, motels in the area will probably accept dogs, cats and other small animals in an emergency.
• Never leave animals unsupervised in a car. They can suffer from heatstroke, even if water is provided, and the windows are slightly open.
• Place small animals in secure carriers or keep them leashed, and ensure that they have ID tags attached to their collars in case frightening sounds and unfamiliar surroundings cause them to bolt.
• Take water and food bowls, your animals' favourite toys or blankets, a towel and enough food for at least a week.
• Identify or prepare a fuel-reduced, low-risk area to which they can be moved prior to the fire. Cattle are generally quite good at avoiding fire if they have room to move. In most cases, it is sufficient to move them onto a low-risk paddock if they are threatened by fire.
• If you plan on staying at the property, keep a sufficient amount of emergency feed to maintain your animals for about a week, and arrange possible off-site storage places if your place of residence is damaged and the animals have to be relocated.
• Move horses onto a paddock where they have room to move away from fires. Never deliberately let out any animals onto public roads. They run a very high risk of causing – and being injured in – traffic accidents.
• Watch out for other animals in need, including strays and animals who may have been left behind by neighbours. If you see an animal in distress and are unable to help, note the animal's condition and location, and call authorities for help as soon as possible.
Another tip I can offer for cat owners who allow their cats outside. Every time I feed my cats I ring a bell and they come running (it's good to know I kept something from my Psychology degree...Thanks Pavlov!). Many cats after being fed in the morning, may disappear to their favourite hiding place outside until the evening. If you need to call them at 2pm because a bushfire is threatening your property, the bell may help.
We've seen in past years the devastation bushfires can cause. However having a plan for your family and your animals will ensure that all your loved ones remain safe. Be prepared and enjoy the summer!