USA –Animal EVAC Volunteers looking for new volunteers
It’s a pet lover’s worst nightmare: a wildfire is raging, evacuations are in progress, and they are unable to get home to rescue their furry friends. Standing at a roadblock, unable to make it home, a sense of panic can set in. In Park and Jefferson counties, when this nightmare becomes a reality, residents are not allowed into the evacuated area. Instead, the responsibility for entering the area to retrieve the animals is the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office and its Animal Control officers. But when the evacuation area is large, there simply are not enough officers to complete the task. That’s why the Animal EVAC Volunteers (AEV) was formed. The group’s primary mission is to assist with the evacuation of small animals during a wildfire or other disaster in our area. When a series of devastating wildfires swept through the foothills in 2002, it was natural that the local mushers, who are experienced with handling large numbers of animals, would come to the aid of the local community. Most mushers own customized “dog trucks,” capable of transporting 20 or more animals at a time. As the Black Mountain Fire, Schoonover Fire, and finally the Hayman firestorm burned through the foothills, the AEV volunteers and their trucks were pressed into service to help evacuate countless small animals.
Since 2002, our area has been largely spared from large wildfires. But in the past few years large national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and most recently the Southern California Wildfires, have brought an increased awareness to the disaster preparedness community about how important it is to have plans in place to evacuate animals. Many people died during Katrina because they would not evacuate without their pets. It is crucial for local disaster planning to include plans to evacuate and care for the animals. Locally, the Jefferson County Animal Response Team (J-CART) has been formed to meet this need. To meet its responsibilities as part of J-CART, the AEV has expanded its membership to include veterinary technicians, former animal control officers, and other animal lovers with experience handling small animals (dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and many others). Some of the volunteers have completed specialized training in wildland firefighting and technical animal rescue to be better prepared to help in times of need, and to be able to conduct evacuations safely.
More volunteers are needed to make sure the AEV is ready for any situation that might arise. The commitment is relatively small; the group trains monthly, and active volunteers are required to attend at least four training meetings or other organizational events each year. The rewards of being able to help the community in a time of crisis are incredible…and for an animal lover, the ability to help to rescue pets in need increases the rewards ten-fold!