A Moveable Beast: Subjective Influence of Human-Animal Relationships on Risk Perception, and Risk Behaviour during Bushfire Threat

By Trigg, Joshua L.; Thompson, Kirrilly et al. | The Qualitative Report, October 2016 | Go to article overview

A Moveable Beast: Subjective Influence of Human-Animal Relationships on Risk Perception, and Risk Behaviour during Bushfire Threat


Trigg, Joshua L., Thompson, Kirrilly, Smith, Bradley, Bennett, Pauleen, The Qualitative Report


That people experience varied and influential connections with non-human animals is well understood, and has long been used as a means of examining motives and biases that inform the treatment of both humans and non-humans. In few contexts is the understanding of animals' perceptual and behavioural influence as important as during threat of disaster such as flood (e.g., Irvine, 2009) and bushfire (Taylor, Lynch, Burns, & Eustace, 2015), where risk-mitigation and survival decisions directly impact the welfare of humans and other animals. For many, animals exist both internally as relational experiences, and externally as traveling companions--as 'moveable beasts' carried with a person. Detailed understanding of the subjective value of these connections is needed to pre-empt and account for the highly varied decisions and behaviour of animal guardians around issues involving animal relocation. Research shows that aspects of the human-animal bond such as attachment (Heath & Linnabary, 2015), emotional closeness (Trigg, Smith, & Thompson, 2015a), and commitment to animals (Brackenridge, Zottarelli, Rider, & Carlsen-Landy, 2012) modify people's responses to disasters that present a threat to their animals. Indeed, there is a wealth of theoretical explanations relating to our affinity for other animals (Amiot & Bastian, 2014) that can be applied to the challenge of disaster response. However, there has been little effort to expand knowledge of guardians' subjective valuations of their animal connections and what for them constitutes motivators or barriers to self-protective and animal-protective action that includes an element of risk; a prominent example of which is the relocation or evacuation of animals.

Moreover, the role of this issue as a determinant of human and animal welfare, as well as of social resilience and economic benefits, is recognised at the level of national disaster-response planning both within Australia (World Animal Protection, 2015), and abroad (e.g., Garde, Perez, Acosta-Jamett, & Bronsvoort, 2013). In this article, we argue that for effective planning and communicative efforts to be created, there is a need to explicate a range of subjectively understood perceptual and behavioural influences of animal connections on disaster-risk understanding, mitigatory planning and decision-making. In Australia, given their frequency and impacts, bushfire accounts are one of the most salient contexts in which to examine this, and interviewing that targets this topic, a valuable approach.

The potential to identify new motives and barriers to disaster-response action by animal guardians means that planning and communicative principles may then be beneficially adapted. Consequently, the main aim of the current study was to examine the role of the human-animal bond in shaping disaster-risk perceptions of companion animal guardians, and in promoting certain forms of response behaviour when facing a bushfire threat. We additionally sought guardians' own accounts of animal-related risks that were most relevant to them, and the degree to which they exhibited insight and awareness about these. The central research question we posed was 'how are connections with animals represented as influencers of risk perception and safety-risk behaviour for companion animal guardians who have been exposed to threat of bushfire in South Australia?' No explicit hypotheses were stated, and a broad research question adopted, given the primarily inductive nature of the research. One benefit of doing this is the avoidance of interpretive constraint on findings by a dominant theory of human-animal relationships.

In the following, we draw together various domains of human-animal relationships to address this question. Given the ability for attitudes towards animals to frame perception and behaviour, this is presented first, followed by animals' roles within the interspecies family. Next, the supportive functions of companion animals in everyday life and during disasters are addressed prior to examining perceived responsibilities towards animals. …

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