Henricus Peters reviews Animals in Emergencies: Learning from the Christchurch Earthquakes by Annie Potts and Donelle Gadenne

“Just imagine being sound asleep in a warm bed when suddenly it’s filled with sandy cold water. This water is so thick, you cannot move or get out of your home. You are stuck up to your neck in wet sand. It is pitch black and the ground is shaking. Most of the animals taken care of after the Christchurch earthquakes went through this experience.”

So writes Janetta Stead, who rescued countless hedgehogs following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. 

There have been a number of books written about the physical earthquakes – and the impacts on humans and of course property – but not, to my knowledge, animals and how they coped or did not. What’s especially interesting here is the interactions between humans and animals which makes it all the more personal and emotional. Property damage is terrible, people – and animals – in distress, is psychologically not good.  The authors bring out the positives of the stories, and they are mostly positive, so there’s very little need for tears. 

Of all of the mess and perhaps obvious negative consequences of any quake, the fact that it brought people and animals including men’s {sic} best friends together, has to be a good thing, or ‘one positive result’ . 

Christchurch’s animals’ earthquakes stories demonstrate how intimately traumatic experiences can connect humans and animals. The quakes also showed how well groups and agencies cooperated – quite well in fact. With the setting being a destructive and transformational one, here are numerous instances of people stepping up and helping out with desperate and life threatening scenarios – rescuing pets, domestic livestock, even some urban wildlife.

The book is well structured – the accounts of agencies and volunteers connected to the rescue and shelter charities are in the first part of the book; tales of individual animals dominate the second part. Lessons learned during the earthquakes are found throughout.  

As I write this in Coronavirus lockdown, there are some obvious similarities – in the quakes as in the time of Coronavirus, we have found good things out of the bad, or different.  Animals in Earthquakes has brought us and animals a bit closer together, and that is good. My prayer or wish is that we keep learning from each other. A very good human / animal book. 


Animals in Emergencies: Learning from the Christchurch Earthquakes. Annie Potts & Donelle Gadenne, 2016. New Zealand: Canterbury University Press. ISBN 978-1-927145-50-0  

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