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Researchers looking to assess impact of tornadoes on Bowling Green’s BIPOC pet owners

Rhonda Miller

The deadly December tornado outbreak placed a heavy strain on pet owners, limiting their ability to seek adequate shelter from the storms without leaving their companions.

A new study funded by the Baltimore-based Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity, or CARE, will explore the experiences of Black, Indigienous, and People of Color (BIPOC) pet owners in Bowling Green who survived the storms.

CARE and Maddie’s Fund, an animal welfare foundation, granted $26,500 to two independent researchers in Texas to conduct the study. Nefta Fonseca and Kendall Gilliam have prior research experience with animals in BIPOC communities, and both have attended historically Black universities. Gilliam said the project will provide a blueprint to better prepare minority pet owners for future disasters

“We’re just hoping to fill information gaps,” Gilliam said. “So whether that looks like influencing legislation, producing academic journals, bringing more awareness to these disasters and to the communities affected. Just hoping to put out as much information as possible.”

Gilliam said almost no research currently exists on the special needs of pets in disaster situations, especially with regards to BIPOC pet owners. Racially diverse communities are uniquely vulnerable in natural disasters, and Gilliam said the project will hopefully identify ways to keep both pet owners and companion animals safe from mother nature.

CARE’s chief of policy for environmental justice, Akisha Townsend Eaton, said the need for the study became quickly apparent after seeing the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes.

“A lot of folks literally lost everything that they had except for the clothes on their backs and their companion animals. The stories I’ve heard from many people is that they would do anything to be able to stay together,” Eaton said.

Surveys for the project will be distributed over the coming months with an expected completion date in the fall. The research team is working with the local chapter of the NAACP to distribute the surveys and identify potential participants.

The results of the surveys will be compiled and released by fall 2023.

Dalton York joined WKU Public Radio in December 2021 as a reporter and host of Morning Edition. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in History from Murray State University, and was named MSU's Outstanding Senior Man for fall 2021. He previously served as a student reporter and All Things Considered host for WKMS, part of the Kentucky Public Radio network. He has won multiple Kentucky Associated Press Awards and Impact Broadcast Awards from the Kentucky Broadcasters Association. A native of Marshall County, Dalton is a proud product of his tight-knit community.