SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) – As the fire season begins, animal rescue groups recommend that Bay Area residents involve their furry friends in emergency drills and household evacuation plans.
A good first step is to prepare a stretcher with supplies like linen, medicine, plenty of food, and portable bowls. Without proper transportation equipment, nervous pets can easily get loose when an owner stops to refuel or settles in an unfamiliar area.
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Michelle Hurst, host of community-run California Wildfire Pets rescue site on Facebook, is working to reconnect pets with their owners during the forest fire season, the most common cases she encounters being cats.
To prevent animals from taking off in stressful situations, she recommends that owners put their dogs on a harness or two leashes and put their cats in a stretcher or pillowcase if there is no other option during the evacuation.
“Often times people don’t have their stretcher, so they grab the cat in their arms and try to get from the house to the car,” said Hurst. “The cat freaked out because she can feel that you are upset, your adrenaline levels are going to zero … any sound can freak them out and they’ll scratch you and run away.”
The more practice an animal has in loading it into a truck – or livestock trailer – the less stressful it will be to move it quickly and the less likely it is to run free. Saanen Kerson, vice president of the Napa Community Animal Response Team, recommends practicing the process of moving animals in vehicles to prevent this from happening.
“If you have cats and dogs at home, we recommend just putting them in a box, putting them in the car once a month, just driving them around town, and then taking them home,” said Kerson . “That way, it normalizes the situation for them. They are used to walking in their pet carriers and they just know that dogs and cats do that sometimes. “
For a dog who loves driving, preparing for evacuation can be a breeze, but pets that are older, have an illness, or are more nervous may need some practice.
Training can also increase the chances of success in those worst-case scenarios when people evacuating their homes have to leave animals behind. This is especially true of farm animals, Kerson said. One of the most difficult situations evacuation workers get into is locking up groups of cattle that are not trained to load into trailers.
“When we are called to a site and have to run around a field to catch a horse, we are pressed for time to keep moving and being in the middle of an evacuation is not training time,” said Kerson. “It’s not really the time to teach an animal everything it needs to know about loading trailers.”
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Sometimes, like chickens or feral cats, animals have to stay behind. But they can be safe at home while their owners are evacuated, as long as the room is clear of flammable vegetation and open food and water are available.
During the two evacuations in Napa County last year, Kerson said her team was responsible for screening these animals while the owners continued to stay away.
“We had hundreds of animals out in the field where they were safe. The fire was over and they were fine, but their owners just couldn’t get back in because they were still being evacuated. We also looked after these animals until those evacuation orders were lifted, ”said Kerson.
The final result? “Evacuate early, even if you are not sure if it is necessary at all,” said Kerson. “If you feel unsafe, go. Take your animals, go early, have plans.”
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