A wildfire has broken out somewhere in the U.S. and now thick black smoke, burning ash and cinders fill the air while a terrifying wall of flames spreads across the landscape. Like the wrath of God set aflame the fire sweeps towards a residential area filled with families and their pets. As the first alarms ring out, firefighters scramble from their stations statewide. Meanwhile, state and federal emergency management teams spring into action. A call goes out, an order for the immediate evacuation of the areas at risk is issued and now the madness begins in earnest.
The trouble with a wildfire is that it keeps to its own schedule so if it happens to be a Friday afternoon and most everyone is at work, school or wherever they might be, they might suddenly find themselves unable to return to their homes for any reason. No amount crying, begging, or pleading is going to help one’s case either. Stony-faced state troopers stand guard on the front lines and they have their marching orders, as do the firefighters and other officials.
Few things in real-life could be worse than the knowledge that your dog, cat, bird, horses, or even your child’s pet goldfish have been left behind in the path of an inferno that is raging out of control.
Even a single two-bit guppy is very important to someone who loves it, and nobody else’s pet is more important than any other in the eyes of their individual owners. Especially when that pet owner is a child.
For whatever the reason might be, it’s a fact that most temporary emergency shelters do not allow pets and some families then face further trauma and must go off in search of a hotel, motel, friend, family member, or tent that will.
That seems to me quite an unreasonable thing to ask of people who have been chased from their homes without much warning and undeniably it places an undue burden upon people who are suffering enough as it is. Factor in the high number of persons dead or still missing in Northern California and there you have it.
An unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.
Meanwhile, the wildfire rages on as firefighters scramble to bring it under control, and overwhelmed emergency relief workers struggle to wring hope from utter chaos.
Behind the scenes, an untold number of small groups of people are busy scurrying about to and fro, going hither, thither and yon trying desperately to rescue any animals that for whatever reason were left behind in the confusion and sudden shock, free-for-all of a forced evacuation in mid- bugout.
Depending upon the specific area in question, oftentimes those people are part of the police department’s animal control teams. Other times, they are volunteers from various community organizations. In far too many instances, however; the rescue groups are comprised of groups of animal rights activists, individual pet owners, concerned citizens in general, and others who feel that the animal control officers are incapable of doing their jobs and/or require their assistance.
While this may be the case, invariably someone from such groups as these either ends up dead or in the hospital where they do no good for anyone, certainly not for the affected animals who are crouching out in the burned-out areas scared, injured, and alone. But especially for the first responders who are then called upon to rescue those same people from themselves.
Much like Hell, the road to every cemetery is also paved with good intentions.
But the unavoidable fact is that despite all the best intentions in the world, some pets will always get left behind in the path of a wildfire or hurricane and that somebody then has to go out into the field and search for them in a safe, organized manner so as to facilitate the reunion of pets and people.
The communities affected by the High Chateau Fire in central Teller County in 2018, saw the same situation arise and again in the aftermath of the Mendocino Complex Fire Carr Fire Woolsey Fire and the Camp Fire, the latter of which killed at least 86 people and destroyed more than 18,000 structures.
You see it in almost every emergency situation in the United States whenever a disaster forces the unexpected evacuation of citizens from their homes.
Scott Halladay is the founder and emergency coordinator of JeffCo H.E.A.T. (Horse Evacuation Assistance Team), and he understands fully how best to help animals in need of rescue without disrupting the efforts of firefighters and other officials.
“That’s probably one of the most frustrating things,” he said. “While volunteers are often called into active fire areas, they aren’t allowed to go where the fire risk is too high. Human safety will always trump animal safety,” Halladay explained. “We want to throw the world at it and often times, they (emergency management) don’t want that. When we do these things, we need to follow the command structures.”
Each of the 20 current volunteers in JeffCo H.E.A.T. has taken the same training firefighters are required to take. This, as he explained, is to ensure that the animal rescue volunteers and officers fully comprehend the issues of personal accountability and individual safety inherent in situations of local or national disaster Also how to be an asset instead of an ass and a dangerous liability to themselves, to others around them, and to the first responders on the scene fighting to save their homes and in many cases their own lives in the bargain.
“That’s often times a hard pill for us to swallow,” he said. But the H.E.A.T. group still exercises caution and self-restraint when preparing to go to the site of a major fire. “They won’t go until they’re dispatched by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. And when that happens, they’ll only send the volunteers needed, no extras. Only four volunteers were dispatched to the High Chateau Fire, ” he added.
Trixie Hudspeth, a Teller County Animal Control Officer for nearly 12 years now, also works to evacuate animals after their owners have been evacuated from their homes without them.
After a wildfire breaks out, one of Trixie’s top priorities is to meet with affected pet owners at rescue staging areas to try and learn where the animals should be found, and their names. if at all possible. “A lot of animal control is knowing what animals are in the county and where they are,” she said.
Sometimes, however; the problem is much greater than that of a dog or some guppies being left behind. One time the rescuers were called upon to evacuate a ranch with 126 horses in danger. With only a scattering of horse trailers available for the operation, progress was predictably slow but they managed to rescue all of the horses within an hour.
The High Chateau Fire, which reportedly started around noon on a Friday, at a time when most people were at work, is a good for instance. “Many people were able to grab their animals as they evacuated, but many could not. In some of those instances, the people refuse to leave the home without the pet. That’s why animals are such a big part of fires,” Hudspeth said.
She further said that being in animal control for so long she has become skilled at reading dogs and cats, and she said that most of the pets she encounters, “Are thrilled to see anybody who comes in the front door after being alone for a few days. They’re sometimes scared or disoriented.” Every now and again, Hudspeth says, she might encounter a dog that’s protective of the home, “but they’re usually happy to leave with a person.”
She also snaps a picture of the home before leaving it, to ensure the pet is returned to the right family. Owners must show ID at the shelter to claim the animal, “It’s a rewarding career,” she said. “It has tear-jerking moments. All the people who do this are just above and beyond. We work in the animal field for a reason.”
Just so, but the ultimate responsibility lies at the feet of the individual pet owners themselves. True enough that nobody but God can predict the time and path of a wildfire or other natural disaster. It’s the job of the first responders to save as many homes and lives as possible and making an emergency plan of evacuation for one’s pets will take a great deal of weight off of their already burdened shoulders and save lives.
If you see that you are in a high fire risk area there are many options available for anyone who wishes to ensure that this situation never arises for their loved ones and they are left behind to fend for themselves in the face of terror.
One can easily make arrangements with a friend, with a family member who lives nearby, or with a neighbor whom you can trust or someone. Even if you cannot trust them, not many people will drive off and leave a dog or cat to burn if they can help it.
Who says your house is still going to be there tomorrow anyway? If someone steals your TV and your home burns down, are you even going to know it? Nope. If they save your pet, a family member to most people, then who really even cares? Let them have it along with your blessings and give them new batteries for the remote control too.
Thank God, and count all that you have lost as gain if your best friends should come back to you safe and sound.
Far too many do not.
Reprinted in full from: https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/Resourcesforyou/ucm047099.htm
Hurricanes, wildfires, floods, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, civil unrest—emergencies can strike at any moment. In many cases, you may need to evacuate your home. Are you prepared to care for your pets during an evacuation?
If you must evacuate, take your pets with you if at all possible. You’re the best person to care for them. Also, as the American Veterinary Medical Association pointed out in its brochure about preparing for a disaster if the situation is dangerous for people, it’s dangerous for animals, too.
Preparing to take your pet
Before you leave your home, know where you can take your pets. During an emergency, temporary public shelters may not allow animals inside. If this is the case, you’ll need to find alternatives. Have a list of pet-friendly motels or hotels, or plan to go to the house of a friend or relative who will let you bring your pets.
You never know when an emergency will arise that will force you to leave your home, so even if you have no plans to travel with your pets, it’s still a good idea to get them used to a crate or carrier. If your pets are already familiar with the crate or carrier, you may have less trouble getting them into it and they may have less anxiety during travel.
Also, consider having your pets microchipped. A microchip is a small implant that’s injected under the skin and provides pets with a permanent identification that can’t fall off, be removed, or become impossible to read. If your pets are taken to a veterinary clinic or animal shelter, they will be scanned to obtain their unique microchip number. The veterinary clinic or animal shelter will then call the pet recovery service and report the microchip number and you will be contacted using the information on file. Make sure to register your pets’ microchip numbers and keep your contact information up to date.
What to take
When you evacuate your home, be sure to take:
- At least a 1-week supply of food and fresh water for your pets;
- Medications, if your pets take medication;
- Copies of your pets’ vaccination records and other medical records;
- Information about your pet insurance policy, if you have one; and
- Photos of your pets to help others identify them if you become separated. (Microchips can also help reunite you with your pets in case of a separation.)
Assemble all of this into a disaster kit that you can grab as you leave.
If you cannot take your pets when you evacuate and must leave them in your home, put a Rescue Alert Sticker on your door to let people know there are pets inside.
Relying on a neighbor
If you get trapped away from your home due to a disaster or other emergency, your pets will be better off if you’ve already arranged for your neighbor or nearby friend to take care of them during a crisis.
The temporary caretaker should have phone numbers to reach you (a cell phone number may be best), and all the instructions necessary to properly care for your pets. Those instructions should include a signed authorization for veterinary care, and financial limits to the veterinary care.
Emergencies can make pets display unexpected or uncharacteristic behaviors. Normally well-behaved pets may become aggressive and defensive after a major disruption in their lives. Animals may not return to more typical behavior for several weeks.
Make sure you keep a close eye on your pets in their new surroundings, both inside and outside. Ideally, dogs should be leash-walked or under your supervision in a secured fenced-in area. Cats should be confined to one room or a small indoor area until they get acclimated. Allow your pets plenty of time to rest and get used to their new environment. Provide familiar toys and beds, if possible.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to evacuate your home and worry about what to do with your pets. That being said, it’s smart to be prepared and have a plan. Like insurance, it’s better to be prepared with a plan and never use it, than it is to find yourself having to figure out at the last minute what to do with your pets when a disaster strikes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a detailed brochure entitled “Prepare for Emergencies Now: Information for Pet Owners” that describes what pet owners can do to prepare for an emergency.
Ready.gov has a Web page (Pets and Animals) with information for pet owners about preparing for a disaster. The Web page also includes tips for people who own large animals, like horses and livestock.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a Web page (Pets and Disasters) that provides disaster preparedness information for animal owners. You can also download the association’s detailed brochure, “Saving the Whole Family,” for free. This brochure includes information about many species of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, livestock, birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS) has a brochure entitled “Saving Pets Saves Lives” that describes how APHIS can help local and state emergency response officials before and during an emergency.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many disaster evacuation centers—specifically Red Cross evacuation centers—can’t accept pets because of states’ health and safety regulations. CDC has a Web page that addresses the health and safety concerns regarding animals kept in non-Red Cross evacuation centers (Animals in Public Evacuation Centers). CDC also has a blog post that discusses 5 things pet owners should know to keep their pets safe in an emergency.
RedRover is a non-profit organization focused on helping animals and people in times of crisis. The charity has a Web page with tips on how to make sure your pets are protected during an emergency and includes links to lists of pet-friendly accommodations both in the U.S. and internationally (RedRover Pet Disaster Preparedness).
Horses and Livestock
Taking care of horses and livestock (such as cattle, sheep, and goats) during a disaster or emergency poses additional challenges. Here are several resources for you:
- Caring for Livestock During Disaster – 1.815, Colorado State University Extension
- Disaster Preparedness Guidelines for Livestock Owners, Indiana State Board of Animal Health
- Disaster Preparedness Guidelines for Horse Owners, Indiana State Board of Animal Health
- Disaster Preparedness for Owners of Livestock, Horses and Poultry, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services