Now that the smoke is clearing, people are returning home and life resumes, it is time to take stock of emergency plans in place and find the areas that need refinement.
One of the sore points evident from the beginning was the coordinated evacuation of pets and livestock from affected areas. When the numbers come in, it will be apparent we let our four-legged friends down. As a volunteer who assisted in the movement of horses around San Diego County’s Valley Center, I heard similar stories from other volunteers and want to provide some guidance for livestock owners because the sad truth is many people who live in the backcountry are not prepared to deal with the need to move their animals should it become necessary.
We heard numerous complaints from people who didn’t appreciate the way their animals were handled and who had better ideas about how the job should be done, but we wouldn’t have had to do this job for them if they had owned their own trailer. If you have horses or other livestock, you should have a trailer. It is the only way to ensure your animal will be moved when, where and how you want, with no delay.
Even if you cannot afford to buy a trailer at this time, borrow one from a friend and teach each of your animals how to enter and exit the trailer calmly. Precious minutes that could have been used to evacuate other animals were wasted because many people did not take the time to familiarize themselves or their horses with proper loading and unloading techniques.
You should already own a halter and sturdy lead rope of the appropriate length for each of your animals. It would be great if you also had a tag with the animal’s name and your basic contact information on the halter. Airport luggage tags work great for this because they can be stored until needed and attached quickly.
You should have already trained your animal to walk calmly on a lead rope and follow basic commands. If this is something you’ve always meant to get around to, get around to it now. Many volunteers were hurt needlessly because animals were not taught how to behave. If you have a large number of animals, it would help the evacuation centers if your animals were socialized in such a manner that they could be placed together in stalls or tied next to each other to maximize the space available for evacuated animals.
At the first sign of danger, put the halters on each of your animals and take them out of the larger enclosures to shorten the time it takes to catch them. If you do not have a small pen, leave them in the pasture until the time you know a volunteer is coming to evacuate you. Then catch the animals and tie them with access to food so they remain calm and busy until the volunteers arrive.
While you are waiting for volunteers to evacuate your animals, pack vital medicines, special feeds and water buckets for your animals to use at the evacuation centers. A length of water hose would also be helpful. If you own a truck, load some hay to evacuate with your animals. Have a card prepared for each of your animals with its name, age, description, your contact information, your veterinarian’s contact information and any and all physical, mental and health information that caretakers will need to know. Put it in a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag so it doesn’t get wet. If, in spite of all your training, your animal still kicks or bites, tie a noticeable red ribbon to the animal’s tail so all involved in the handling of the animal can avoid being hurt or having other animals injured.
When volunteers have safely evacuated your animal, please thank them. We are not paid for this and are not reimbursed for the gas we use. A tank of diesel costs $100 and a single trip with a load can use nearly a tank. We usually don’t have time to eat and only drink the water we remembered to grab on our way out of the house. Don’t ask about going to the bathroom.
Our trailers were kicked and dented and a number of us were battered and bruised. Many of us did not sleep for days and were worried about having enough time to evacuate our own animals. A lot of us also had evacuated animals at our own houses to care for.
When you have livestock at evacuation centers that does not mean you should rely on the volunteers to care for your animals. Show up twice a day to help feed, water and clean up after your animals. Check with the on-site volunteers to see if they need food, water, or time for themselves to care for their own animals or get some sleep.
There is a wonderful community of caring animal lovers out there, and you should take some time to get to know them. When your animals leave the evacuation centers, offer a donation to the groups that cared for your animals. Come back when your animals are settled and assist the evacuation center. Ask what you can do to help before you leave and follow through. A huge thank-you is owed to the many volunteers who evacuated animals and cared for evacuated animals, the feed and hardware stores who donated food and equipment and the owners of the evacuated animals who made everyone’s job easier.
Author Roxanne Greene is a Valley Center resident and a member of the Escondido Mounted Posse, a social club formed in 1948 that promotes horsemanship and the city of Escondido. For more information, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.