Hard Choices: Leaving Animals Behind

By Gary Linehan June 15, 2016 11:28

You can see the flames advancing and know it’s time to go. Your animals can sense danger but won’t respond to your commands. You wish you had more time but it’s too late. Should you turn your animals loose or leave them home and hope for the best?

“It depends on the animal and the specific situation,” says Jon Baldwin, vice president of the Amador County Animal Response Team.

Ranchers will often open their gates or cut fences to give their large animals a chance to escape, Baldwin says.

“With small animals, it’s more difficult,” he adds. “They tend to hide in places they are familiar with, and that is not always the best situation. If people have small pets they should take them with them, even if they have to keep them in the car for three or four days.”

If you must leave pets behind, experts offer these tips:

  • Give the animal access to a room without windows but with adequate ventilation, such as a bathroom. Put cats and dogs in separate rooms; never leave pets tied outside.
  • Leave enough food for at least three days. Fill water containers that are not easily knocked over, or leave a faucet dripping with the drain open. Each animal can drink several gallons of water a day when under stress or hot conditions.
  • Leave familiar bedding and toys.
  • For cage birds, leave food in dispensers that regulate the amount and leave extra water. Cover the cage with a thin cloth or sheet to provide security and filtered light.
  • Place a notice on your front door listing what animals are in the house and where they are located. Provide a phone number where you can be reached as well as the name and number of your vet.

Advice for handling livestock is more complex. Releasing animals without control could jeopardize firefighting operations or the safety of others, notes Jennifer Clarke, manager of Tuolumne County Animal Control.

“If you turn livestock loose and it’s running on a road where fire equipment is trying to get through, it can create a hazard,” she says. “If you’re way out in the boonies, then yeah, I’d say let it take its chances. If you’re in a more populated area, you probably should not let it out. You have to use your judgment.”

Setting animals free does not guarantee their survival, adds Jeane Kennedy of the Calaveras Animal Disaster Shelter.

“I wouldn’t let my animals burn if I could cut the fence and give them a chance, but then they’re liable to get run over on the road,” she explains. “It’s never the best solution. It’s the last resort.”

Thinking that animals can outrun a wildfire is largely wishful, Clarke says. “It depends how fast the fire is moving. Some fires can outrun vehicles, as we’ve seen when fire overtakes an emergency vehicle and people are killed.”

If people are away from home when an area is declared closed by fire, they should never return for possessions or animals, Baldwin says.

“People should absolutely not go into a fire zone without the express permission of the people who are fighting the fire,” he notes. “You might do some good but you also could create problems by getting in the way of operations and blocking the roads. It’s against the law and dangerous to the people fighting the fire. They own that land for the duration and their word should be law.”

The best course of action, all agree, is taking animals out with you, either inside your vehicle or in a trailer.

“That’s why pre-planning is so important,” Clarke says. “It is your responsibility as owner to have the animal trained to get into a trailer so it’s not a scrambling emergency at the last minute.”

Never tether an animal to a vehicle to transport it, because it could fall, Clarke adds. “Again, you shouldn’t be in a situation where you need to do that.”

She recalls one man who rode his horse away from his property during the Rim Fire. “There was no other way out so he rode it out to a safe area and we picked him up. But he didn’t wait until the last minute. He took action before there was an immediate danger.”

“Getting the family out should always be the first concern,” notes Baldwin, “and sometimes you have to let the pets fend for themselves.”

Copyright © 2016 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Gary Linehan June 15, 2016 11:28
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