Call for standardised reporting in large-animal rescue cases

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A padded hood prevents injury to the horse’s head during the rescue and while it recovers from anaesthesia. This horse was successfully rescued from a gully. Photo: Image: Adam Holmes/Australian Journal of Emergency Management
A padded hood prevents injury to the horse’s head during the rescue and while it recovers from anaesthesia. This horse was successfully rescued from a gully. Photo: Image: Adam Holmes/Australian Journal of Emergency Management

The systematic collection of data on large animal rescues is warranted to evaluate methods and gather statistics on death or injuries to the animals and people involved, according to researchers.

The rescue of large animals poses a unique set of challenges, requiring the humane removal of an animal from a place of danger to safety, while at the same time trying to ensure the safety and welfare of responders as well as members of the public.

Dr Kirrilly Thompson, MaryAnne Leighton, and Professor Chris Riley, in an article published in the Australian Journal of Emergency Management, provided accounts of three previously undocumented rescues of horses trapped in mud, flood waters, and a gully to illustrate the ways in which the safety of humans and animals were mutually dependent.

“Above all,” they reported, “the case studies signal the need for a shift towards multidisciplinary approaches to large animal rescue that engage emergency services, engineering, veterinary sciences and social sciences in collaborative knowledge sharing and creation.”

They said the case studies were pertinent reminders that:

  • While large animals presented challenges to rescue due to their size and weight, planning and co-ordination can be of more use than brute force and urgency;
  • While responders may be in leadership positions during rescues, the rescue can be effected by their communication style and approach with owners and veterinarians;
  • While owners can be a hindrance, their expert knowledge can contribute to safe and successful rescue, and the location of suitable safe zones;
  • While the media can intrude on rescue situations, their presence can be used to the advantage of the rescue.

“These generalisations from the case studies are entirely reasonable,” they said.

“However, without standardised incident reporting of animal rescues, there is no evidence base to determine best practice or evaluate the effect of interventions such as training and advancement in technological aids such as glides and slings.

“Neither are statistics on death or injury to humans and animals during or post large animal rescue required to be systematically collected. Both seem warranted.”

They said the case studies showed the need for a collaborative, multidisciplinary sets of systems and standards for animal rescue.

“Large animal rescue requires the same organisational principles and teamwork as for a road crash rescue or house fire,” they wrote.

The value of specialist training for first responders in large animal rescue seemed obvious, they said, but the trio stressed: “While introductory training is useful it is not a replacement for comprehensive training involving responders and veterinarians, and constant revision and practise.”

The horses involved in two of the rescue case studies made full recoveries; the horse in the third was euthanised the day after its rescue.

Thompson is a senior research fellow at the Appleton Institute, based on the Adelaide campus of Central Queensland University. She is a trained anthropologist with research interests in human-animal relations and the cultural dimensions of risk.

Leighton is the Large Animal Rescue educator with the Queensland Horse Council, and is the author of Equine Emergency Rescue – a guide to Large Animal Rescue.

Riley is professor of equine clinical studies and head of the equine group at New Zealand’s Massey University. He has research interests in animal and human welfare, their interdependence, and how veterinarians may use their skills and experience to benefit both.

The full article can be read here.

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