Session 3

Animals in Crises 

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Date: Wednesday, 11 November, 2020

Time: 8am to 10.30am EST (Eastern Standard Time, USA)

The ongoing climate crisis, in combination with the coronavirus crisis, has made it patently clear that disasters are here to stay, going forward. Whilst we have been able to pay little attention to the regulation of disasters in the past, our future and the future of non-human animals will critically depend on whether, and to what extent, human and animal interests are being considered in disaster regulation. Here, we’re interested in gaining a better understanding of how crises are defined and regulated, and what their relation is to emergency laws, and the regulation of climate.

Building on that, we want to know: How are animals considered in times of crises? What are some of the most advanced / most worrisome examples of crisis regulation? Which animals are protected during disasters and crises? How did regulation for those animals come about? Are some animals doubly exploited in times of crisis (e.g., research on animals to tackle COVID-19)? When and under what conditions have crises operated as entry points to either include or exclude animals in regulation? Under what circumstances are crises an opportunity to create space (literal, political, legal) for animals?  

Moderator: Steven White (Griffith University)

Speakers: Clemens Driessen (Wageningen University), Leslie Irvine (University of Colorado), Jo-Anne McArthur (We Animals Media), Crystal Heath (


Clemens Driessen

Caring for animals in times of normal disasters: In this talk I will discuss some puzzling questions regarding animals in times of disaster. Considering the far going instrumentalization of animals in modern societies, we might expect that during a disaster the lives of humans are always given precedence over those of other organisms. We may think animals are primarily considered loss of property, or a mere resource to protect or deploy for humanitarian aims.  From bleeding horseshoe crabs for covid-19 vaccine testing, to the uncounted loss of animal lives and habitats due to catastrophic fires, animal suffering and death at most seem a matter of occasional sadness. Instead, I will argue, spectacular disasters can reveal the extent to which humans care about and for animals. Meanwhile however, we tend to ignore: 1) how an ordinary day for most animals on our planet is rather disastrous; 2) how much the disasters humans and animals find themselves in are not unexpected occurrences but foreseen events and ‘normal accidents’; and 3) how it’s not just up to humans to save animals, but perhaps even more important to appreciate the ways in which animals can save themselves, or at least potentially could when given the space to do so, while together we are facing an increasingly disastrous environment.

Leslie Irvine

The natural and built environments pose potential risks to all species. Any event that affects large numbers of people will likely affect animals, too. Because animals are part of the economic, sociological, emotional, and moral fabric of society, disaster response planning must include them. Drawing from hands-on disaster research, this session will introduce the vulnerability paradigm and illustrate its relevance for animal welfare. It will show how our definitions of animals influence our understanding of the risks they face. It will also provide new conceptual tools for making decisions about animal welfare in disasters.

Jo-Anne McArthur

The Anthropocene is arguably a constant state of disaster for non-human animals. Additionally, they remain an afterthought in our plans to control the disasters that stand out within this era such as floods, hurricanes, viruses and fires. For almost twenty years I have documented the hidden crises in which animals find themselves inside places like industrial farms, fur farms and research labs. When major disasters strike, I am there too, to show as best I can the experiences of the animals. 

Animal photojournalism shines a very harsh light on how we fail animals. In this talk, I will share my experiences, observations and photographs from the front lines. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of animals who were forcibly abandoned languish in shelters. In preparation for the floods of Hurricane Florence, a mass exodus of animals would have been costly and near impossible, and thus millions of animals were locked in farms and left to either survive or drown. I was also on the ground at the cataclysmic bushfires in Australia this year, where a lack of preparedness left billions of wild and domesticated animals to perish. The images illuminate sentience and suffering, educate public, provoke accountability, annoy industry, and are ultimately a plea for both protection and action.

Crystal Heath

Recently, due to poor worker conditions, U.S. meat packing plants became epicenters of COVID-19 transmission. This closed down many slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, and even when the Trump administration re-opened them, many workers were too sick or afraid of getting sick, and did not return to work. This became a problem, especially for the pork industry. Iowa Select Farms, prioritizing economics over animal welfare opted for a particularly cruel method of killing the pigs, known as “ventilation shutdown” (VSD) which was brought to the public’s attention via a factory farm whistleblower. 

I am  a member of the founding committee of Veterinarians Against Ventilation Shutdown, urging the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to reclassify “ventilation shutdown” as a “not recommended” killing method, as we are outraged by this brutal method. About 900 veterinarians so far have signed on, urging the AVMA to condemn this practice. The AVMA never responded. 

In my talk, I will share first hand how the silencing of critical perspectives of veterinary professionals is practiced by the United States agriculture industry. By using political power, passing unconstitutional “ag-gag” laws, taxpayer subsidies, threatening whistleblowers, cultural pressure, institutional gate-keeping, and media bias, large scale international agricultural corporations maintain their power despite public opposition and mounting scientific evidence of their negative impacts on climate change, the environment and public health. Most recently, it was discovered how they are now using social media cancel culture tactics to silence industry critics.


Filling the Ark

Leslie Irvine’s book, Filling the Ark, will be out in paperback in January 2021, published by Temple University Press

When disasters strike, people are not the only victims. Hurricane Katrina raised public attention about how disasters affect dogs, cats, and other animals considered members of the human family. In this short but powerful book, now available in paperback, noted sociologist Leslie Irvine goes beyond Katrina to examine how oil spills, fires, and other calamities affect various animal populations—on factory farms, in research facilities, and in the wild.

We Animals Archive

The We Animals Archive is a collection of thousands of images and videos of animals in the human environment—those animals we use for food, clothing, research, experimentation, work, entertainment, and companionship.

For over a decade, photojournalist, author and educator Jo-Anne McArthur has been documenting the plight of animals around the globe, creating the internationally celebrated We Animals project. The We Animals Archive is the searchable repository for this ongoing project.

The images in the We Animals Archive are available for free to individuals, organizations, and media outlets around the world working to help animals. To request high resolution images, simply search for the images you need and fill out an image request.

Thanks to Maria Martelli for the drawing (Twitter: @Mistheother)

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