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Companion Animals and Online Discourse: Victim-Blaming and Animal Evacuation

By Ashley E. Reed, Sarah E. DeYoung, Ashley K. Farmer

Category Journal Articles
Abstract

People often intentionally or unintentionally leave companion animals behind in an evacuation during a hazard event. In online animal rescue forums, people curate, comment on, and engage in posts during and after disasters. Many times, the content of the posts and comments to the posts are value-laden and examples of expressing moral policing about evacuation related to companion animals. To explore the content of posts related to rescue, reunification, and victim-blaming, we collected 64 social media posts and news articles about cats and dogs affected by the Carr Fire and Hurricane Florence. From these posts, we coded 157 comments as relating to the themes of decision-making, joy, sympathy, information, anger, reunification, judgment/punishment, fairness, seeking solutions, and gratitude, and analyzed the interrater reliability for these categories. Results suggest conflicting information on species-specific risks for evacuation failure. Additionally, we found that victim-blaming against pet owners who failed to evacuate their pets, indicated by the expression of “negative” attitudes toward this population, was contingent upon the onset speed of the hazard and amount of notice prior to evacuation. Owners attributed more blame after Hurricane Florence, a slow-onset event, than after a rapid-onset event, like the Carr Fire. We used the triangle model of responsibility to explain the differences in responsibility attribution and victim-blaming between these two hazards. Victimblaming also appeared to impact expressions of grief online, with those impacted by the Carr Fire who experienced greater victim-blaming less likely to post about their experiences on social media. The primary conclusion for this research is that victim-blaming, in the case of these events, was more common for Hurricane Florence than the Carr Fire. The implications include new insights into the ways in which outside observers assign blame to disaster victims in slow-onset versus rapid-onset events, especially when companion animals are involved.

Publication Title Anthrozoös
Volume 33
Issue 6
Pages 727-742
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2020.1824654
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Tags
  1. Evacuation
  2. Human-animal interactions
  3. Pets and companion animals
  4. trauma