Throughout the 2017 wildfires, the Pet Safe Coalition Society of Canada spent weeks rescuing, sheltering and reuniting animals with their owners after disaster struck.
The Pet Safe Coalition sheltered more than 1,000 pets and animals in Quesnel during last summer’s fires. They worked out of Alex Fraser Park, the local agricultural facility, and the entire effort was run by volunteers and donations.
When Nazko, west of Quesnel, flooded this spring, they once again jumped into action.
But the Pet Safe Coalition has been around since 2010, and does more than just disaster relief. They also take care of animals when they are displaced by things like house fires or when someone has to go to the hospital but doesn’t have anyone to watch their animals for them in the mean time.
With the fires closer to home this summer, Willow Eyford, a director and founder of the Pet Safe Coalition, says they won’t be opening a shelter this year. With West Quesnel and much of the surrounding area under evacuation alerts, Eyford says three of the program’s directors are also under alert. And Alex Fraser Park is simply too close to the area under alert for them to feel comfortable setting up another shelter.
Instead, this summer the society is focusing on helping others execute their own evacuation programs. They spent the time since the wildfires working with the community to encourage animal owners to have a plan.
She counters that if the fires are put out, the area is safe and the need exists, they may set up the shelter again – but it isn’t currently in the cards. “We work closely with [the Emergency Support Services Reception Centre in Quesnel], so if they’re saying, ‘We’re not setting up, we’re referring to Prince George,’ [Pet Safe] is going to follow that lead.”
She says the society is acting as more of a referral agency right now, but emphasizes the importance of people having a plan for any animals in their care. “You’re still responsible for your animals, even in times of disaster. So that’s what we really want to stress,” says Eyford. “We’re here to assist people in executing their own plan.”
One of the main issues people run into when they’re put on evacuation alert or given an order to evacuate is that they do not have a way to transport their animals. “Some people live on a farm, but they don’t have a trailer,” says Eyford. “They’ve got 100-plus animals and no way to move them … during a disaster, your time to prepare is over. So what we’re finding now is reality is sinking in and they’re realizing they’re not prepared.”
Some people think the Pet Safe Coalition can go beyond evacuation order lines and get their animals out, Eyford says. But that is not the case. “We’re just normal people,” Eyford says.
When the evacuation alert for West Quesnel and the surrounding area came out last Friday, Aug. 10, Eyford began to execute her own plan. Eyford lives on a farm and is the executive director of the Crooked Leg Ranch Sanctuary. “I have lots of animals with medical and behavioural issues that don’t do well under stress. We move them when things are calm so that it’s safer for everyone,” says Eyford.
She evacuated more than 50 animals from her farm and sanctuary on Friday and Saturday.
Anyone with animals should know how to get their animals out in the case of an evacuation, and, Eyford adds, should have a back-up plan or two as well.
The first step to setting up an evacuation plan is to know what your resources are. Do you have your own trailer, or will you need to hire a local hauler? Animal owners need to find something safe and reliable that can be used to get animals out in a time of crisis – for example, when a community is put under an evacuation alert.
Eyford emphasizes that having multiple back-up plans is an important part of the process. “Our alert area is so big this year, we’ve even had to struggle finding spots for people, because a lot of the places we use are also under [an evacuation] order or alert,” Eyford says.
“Lots of people wait for an [evacuation] order, and there’s just not enough time. They say ‘I have a two-horse trailer, I can just come back for all my animals.’ That’s false. When that order comes, you’re not going back.”
When there’s an alert, says Eyford, it’s important to move your animals out immediately.
The Cariboo Regional District has a brochure highlighting what people should do in the event of an evacuation order. It also says it takes more time to move livestock than people are given when an evacuation order goes out.
The brochure says “to facilitate the time required by ranchers to try and ensure the safety of their herds, allowance has now been made to evacuate cattle during the alert stage. If ranchers need to evacuate livestock, they may be eligible for financial assistance to move their livestock out and feed them during the alert period.”
For more details, ranchers are encouraged to contact the CRD’s Emergency Operations Centre.
At the end of the day, says Eyford: “my goal is to train myself out of a job. I would love not to be here, but [people are] relying on us too much to do the work for them. People need to really prepare, practise, and have alternate plans in place.”