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Non-human animals face significant risks in meteorological, geological, technological, and terrorist disasters. A large network of rescue organizations and policies has developed in response to the needs of animals. This paper examines the animal response system through four case studies, revealing issues and conflicts that can inform animal rights policy and activism. The first case examines the response to Hurricane Katrina, pointing out that emergency response plans reflect speciesist assumptions that give human lives priority, in all circumstances. The media highlighted accusations of racism during the Katrina response, but activists need to educate the public about the connections between these forms of discrimination. Second, a train derailment in which residents evacuated without their animals resulted in a bomb threat on the animals’ behalf. Faced with negative publicity, responders conducted a rescue operation, proving that the government responds selectively to direct action. Third, Hurricane Charley revealed a myth about the behavior of dogs that has parallels to myths about direct action on behalf of animals. Understanding how myths function can help activists undermine them. Finally, an evacuation exercise at an animal shelter emphasized the importance of training volunteers in the handling of animals. This lesson translates well to animal liberation actions and other situations in which animal safety is paramount.


An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, Philadelphia PA. August 12, 2005. Portions of this paper draw on research supported by two Quick Response Grants from the Natural Hazards Research Center at the University of Colorado, funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. CMS 0080977 and CMS 0408499. Generous support for postKatrina research also came from the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators and the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. The views expressed here are the author’s, and do not represent the opinions of these organizations. The author also thanks Steve Best, Richard Kahn, and the reviewers of this journal for helpful comments.