People weren’t the only ones fleeing the Cariboo-Chilcotin wildfires this year.
Part of an emergency exodus involves animals. Petugees were brought out of the fire zones to the west of Quesnel and in some cases, the humans on the run had nowhere to house their furry family members once they were evacuated. But they did have somewhere to take them.
The Pet Safe Coalition Society of Canada (PSCSC) is a not-for-profit disaster animal relief team based in Quesnel. The organization was founded as a registered society in 2014 (but have a helping history older than that) with the mission to assist animals affected by natural disasters and/or domestic emergencies. They set up a base of operations at the Bouchie Lake Community Hall & Recreation Grounds as an information point and, if need be, a place to drop off animals if there just weren’t any other alternative housing.
“For this incident we had nine cats/kittens and one dog,” said Willow Eyford, one of the longtime volunteers. “Animals were brought to our temporary shelter by their owners, or friends/family of owners that were in the evacuation order area. Foster homes were found for some of the cats and kittens and the dog, the rest stayed at our shelter until they could be reunited with the owner. All have been returned to their owners.”
The society works in close concert with the full array of authorities involved in emergency response. After major wildfire crises in the recent past, they were ready for the comparatively small incident so far this year – just not small for the individuals who needed them. At least this time, it wasn’t a menagerie of feather, fur and fins. Yet.
“There is always the possibility of animals coming in. Fires are unpredictable, as we know, so we often are playing the hurry up and wait game. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” said Eyford. “We do take in livestock as well, but generally not for commercial operations as there are other options for them through the cattlemen’s association and Ministry of Agriculture. In 2017 we had hundreds of sheep and goats in our care. We just never know what will come through the gates. We have had bunnies, various house birds, dogs, cats, and all sorts of animals from hobby farms.”
In past times, to accommodate the potential (and realistic) influx, the PSCSC has set up their trailers at Alex Fraser Park with it’s extensive network of corrals, pens and storage space, in case of major livestock. Bouchie Lake’s facilities were the chosen alternative, this year, because the rodeo was already using the Alex Fraser space.
“We are lucky to have several options available that we have made arrangements to use should the need arise. Each come with their own sets of challenges and perks. Its good to get comfortable with all of them,” Eyford said.
“Obviously we are not running a luxury resort, and we always encourage (sometimes beg) animal guardians to have their own plans in place before they are needed. Mass sheltering of animals is stressful for pets and people, which is why we try to foster as many displaced animals as we can. We have been building volunteers, supplies, connections and resources for years, and we practice our plans before we are in the thick of it. As the saying goes, when disaster strikes, the opportunity to prepare is over.”
The PSCSC did it’s preparation work in stages. Various grants and fundraising efforts over the years (some of the most significant have come from Community Futures Development Corporation, Quesnel Rotary Club, and Quesnel Community Foundation) have gotten them ever more useful tools and resources, such as their trailers to ensure mobility wherever they are most needed.
For their ongoing efforts, they have been recognized in such ways as being a Business Excellence Award winner from the Quesnel Chamber of Commerce, and Citizen Of The Year finalist in 2018 for the society’s founder, Debbie Knabke.
“We have been active in assisting animals during past wildfires and floods, as well as smaller but not less important emergencies such as house fires, and domestic situations,” said Knabke. “We offer services such as safe shelter, food, medical assistance, transportation, and supplies without cost to evacuees for their animals. Between events we do educational events on preparedness for animals: Have a Pet. Have a Plan. We do not ask for compensation.”
“What we need to function at our best is more volunteers and fosters,” said Eyford, “but most importantly is for people to develop and practice their own evacuation plans, because at some point they will be needed. Please don’t rely on us as your plan A or B or even C. We are there for when there are no other options. We are entirely volunteer run, and volunteers take time away from their families and their lives to make sure other people’s animals are taken care of. We are happy to offer this service to our community but please, don’t take advantage of our volunteers or the services we provide. If you have a pet, you need to have a plan to make sure they are safe when there is an emergency.”
More foster homes are needed, so should an emergency arise, there are people to call for taking in displaced pets on a temporary basis.
To reach out to the Pet Safe Coalition Society of Canada, look up their page on Facebook or call 250-255-7629.