This article examines how human-animal connections influence risk perception and behaviour in companion animal guardians exposed to bushfire threat in Australia. Although the objective role of psychological bonds with companion animals is well accepted by researchers, subjective interpretations of these bonds by animal guardians are relatively underexamined in this context. We argue that the ways in which connections with pets and other animals are represented influences different forms of safety-risk perception and behaviour when managing animals’ safety in the face of disaster threat. Thematic analysis of 21 semi-structured interviews with South Australian residents in bushfire-affected areas supported the role of the human-animal bond in shaping risk perception, and influencing engagement in risk-behaviour. Influential factors included animals’ “life value,” “relative versus absolute” risk framing, the “constellation of bonds,” and “action paralysis” when facing threat. Implications for future research in decision-making and risk propensities of animal guardians facing disaster threat alongside their pets are then discussed.


Animals, Bushfire, Disaster, Pets, Risk-Perception, Risk-Taking, Thematic Analysis

Author Bio(s)

Joshua Trigg’s research centres on theoretical and practical approaches to understanding the “human-animal bond.” His background is in psychology where he is currently examining the roles that the human/companion-animal bond plays in motivating and inhibiting early natural hazard preparedness by animal owners/guardians in Australia. He is a current PhD candidate researching at the Appleton Institute for Behavioural Science, CQUniversity, Australia. He may be contacted at j.trigg@cqu.edu.au.

Dr. Kirrilly Thompson is a cultural anthropologist who uses ethnographic methods to research cultural dimensions of risk-perception and safety. She has particular interests in human-animal interactions, high-risk interspecies activities and equestrianism. Kirrilly has led a three year ARC project titled “Should I stay or should I go? Increasing Natural Disaster Preparedness and Survival through Animal Attachment.” Kirrilly is also the President Elect of the Society for Risk Analysis. He may be contacted at kirrilly.thompson@cqu.edu.au.

Dr. Bradley Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at CQUniversity. He specialises in the relationship between humans and animals, including the management of animals during natural disasters. Over the past decade, Bradley has focused his research on the cognition, behaviour and domestication of canids. He is the author of The Dingo Debate, a comprehensive text on Australia’s wild dog, and currently serves as director of the Australian Dingo Foundation, and scientific advisor for one of Australia’s largest dingo sanctuaries. He may be contacted at b.p.smith@cqu.edu.au.

Dr. Pauleen Bennett is an Australian scientist with a background in anthrozoology, psychology, neuropsychology, and neuroscience, and leads the Anthrozoology Research Group. She combines her teaching and research work with a range of community activities designed to improve human-companion animal relationships. She has a broad range of research interests within human-animal relationships and interaction, and has published extensively in various journals, with her work also informing government policy regarding the treatment and use of animals. She may be contacted at pauleen.bennett@latrobe.edu.au.


We are grateful each person who took the time to relate their experiences of human-animal relationships and bushfire threat in this research. The authors also declare no competing interests.

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