Pets can be a calm port in our storms
September is officially National Disaster Preparedness Month. It’s a vestige of a time (which most of us over 50 can remember) when disasters were rare, but finite, natural or human-caused events that challenged individuals’ and communities’ ability to survive and regroup.
In those days, being prepared – a state of being reasonably vigilant, prudent and proactive – would increase our chances of weathering any storm. Most of the preparedness advice was practical: how to apply knowledge about the kind of disasters you’d most likely face, given the local and seasonal precedents; gathering necessary items; laying contingency plans with family and neighbors. Things like that.
I remember working with local first responders after the Coal Seam fire on plans to better rescue and shelter animals in the valley the next time we had a wildfire, blizzard or flood (with or without mud and rockslides.) I wrote an article or two suggesting some practical things people could do to minimize losses through planning and a bit of organizing.
What has changed overnight, or so it seems, is the number, variety and scope of potentially life-disrupting disasters we face; and their duration, frequency, and potential for vastly expanded consequences. The seasons in which we can predict the possibility of weather-related events are being extended – in some cases, like California’s fire season, to year-round threats.
Disasters pile up, compounding their effects, as again in California the extended drought escalates the fire danger. Not only are resources consumed at an unprecedented rate in response, but whole segments of the economy are endangered, threatening the state’s long-term ability to cope. Prudence and personal responsibility might dictate that people living in a flood zone should purchase flood insurance. But in the recent floods in Louisiana, caused by unprecedented and completely unmanageable rainfall, who could have been anticipated the vulnerability? Personal responsibility may become impossible if the insurance industry, dependent as it is on predictability of risks, collapses.
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Now, for perhaps the first time in our history, war threatens to impact our country directly, through both terrorism and the tide of refugees. Being surrounded by oceans is no longer to be invulnerable. An epidemic of frustration and rage engulfs communities impotent to prevent its violent outbursts. Should we all take up arms? Religion? Both? Or what?
I watched the videos of people and animals being rescued from rooftops and trees with, I confess, a sense of the futility of attempting to prepare, in any specific and practical sense, for all the possible disasters by which we are increasingly menaced. It’s new to feel, while comfortably at home, both hypervigilant anxiety, and at the same time, almost paralyzing dismay at the lack of any clear direction toward safety, or even sanity.
Then I recall a cherished image that is somehow steadying: an internet photo of a refugee, filthy and disheveled, trudging, somewhere in southern Europe, in an endless throng toward uncertain asylum, but still carrying his little dog. It is a glimpse of what always remains possible: a commitment to not abandon a companion. The crises we face are due in no small part to our having abandoned our Earth to plunder and profiteering, our fellow humans to war, enslavement and homelessness, our fellow creatures to mass extinction. Maybe our last chance will depend on being able to reverse course and resist, solely for love, a final, inconsequential-seeming temptation to abandon a small, dear someone.
Amid the growing fear, anxiety and dread, I think mental preparedness is what we most need, now. Those of us lucky enough to have an animal companion know that there is immense value in the heart connection we share. It may turn out to be far more powerful than we imagine: a way of keeping some part of our soul intact through whatever catastrophe overtakes us.
Meanwhile, extra water and batteries are still a good idea.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.
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