As fires blaze through Oregon, many people need to evacuate their homes at a moment’s notice. And some might have pets that need to be evacuated too. That’s where Central Oregon’s Pet Evacuation Team steps in. The organization works with partners like the American Red Cross and county emergency services to help evacuate pets in disasters like wildfires.
Vikki Sheerer is a regional coordinator for the Pet Evacuation Team. Julie Rosqvist-Gerard is a dairy farmer who recently used the organization’s services for her goats, dogs, cats and bunnies. We learn more about the organization and how it can help people with pets in an emergency situation.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Over the last few years and we’ve talked about evacuations from wildfires, one theme has come up over and over again: animals. Because very often people fleeing fires aren’t just thinking about themselves. They also have pets or livestock to take care of. In central Oregon, the Pet Evacuation Team is there to help. Vikki Sheerer is a regional coordinator for the nonprofit. She joins us now along with Julie Rosqvist-Gerard, a dairy farmer from La Pine who used their services recently during the Darlene fire. Welcome to you both.
Guests: Thank you
Miller: Julie Rosqvist-Gerard, how many animals do you have on your property?
Rosqvist-Gerard: We have 40 goats, a number of chickens. We had five bunnies, three dogs, three cats.
Miller: I started to write those down so I could refer to them later and then I wasn’t able to because the list kept going. But the sense I got is there’s a lot when you add all this together. Last month with the Darlene fire burning not that far from you, I imagine you were monitoring the situation. Did you already know what you’re going to do with the goats and the bull and the dogs and the cats and the bunnies?
Rosqvist-Gerard: No, because we live in a big wildfire area, we’ve always talked about what papers you need and we’ve talked about if we had to evacuate and we could only take a few, which would the few be that we took? But those are sort of concepts that you don’t think of until it really happens.
Miller: So when it did happen, what happened?
Rosqvist-Gerard: When they moved the level to evacuation, we said okay that’s it. We can’t wait, we’ve got to get out. We have friends who got a hold of us, and said, ‘Hey, do you need help moving animals?’ We said yes. People showed up with trailers to help us get everybody out. When we first evacuated, the local place that people were evacuating to was not set up for goats. We were really, really fortunate in that the pet team was already set up at the fairgrounds for evacuations from another fire. They were all prepared and we evacuated up there. They were wonderful.
Miller: Vikki Sheerer, can you give us a sense for how you prepare for a fire like that? And the animals, you’re prepared to actually take in?
Sheerer: We’ve been providing assistance to animals since 2001, so this wasn’t our first rodeo, so to speak. We work in partnership with the Red Cross and emergency service coordinators in Central Oregon. The Red Cross and the emergency services coordinators had called us for the Grand View fire and the manager at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond opened up the beef barn and another air-conditioned facility, so we were able to house the small animals in an air-conditioned activity center, and then we had horses and goats in the beef barn. By the time Julie needed us, we’d already been there for a couple of days and we had hay, shavings, feed, and pens all set up and ready to go.
Miller: Julie, I am not a dairy goat farmer, which is probably obvious, but do you have to actually milk the goats every day?
Rosqvist-Gerard: Yes, we were milking twice a day while we were evacuated.
Miller: And you were able to go there. Were you still able to use the milk or did that just have to be thrown away?
Rosqvist-Gerard: No, we had to dispose of it because we didn’t have a freezer to keep it in. We normally store it and sell it to a soap company.
Miller: So to go back to the fire thinking If this hadn’t been set up by the Pet Evacuation Team, what options would you have had?
Rosqvist-Gerard: I would have had to try and find a farm nearby that would be willing to take us in, which is not easy to do with 40 goats.
Miller: So that’s the goats. But you started with the list of the menagerie and there are also the chickens and the rabbits, which I imagine are more on the agricultural side. And then your pets, the cats and the dogs. So what about everybody else?
Rosqvist-Gerard: Yeah, that would have been even harder, because we had a puppy that we had just had for a week, so we didn’t know what her training would be. She’d never been in a crate, never been on a leash. We weren’t sure how she would respond if she were on another farm. Your options get pretty limited when you have that number of animals.
Miller: What did you do with all those animals?
Rosqvist-Gerard: Most of them came to the head evacuation. We didn’t bring the chickens and we didn’t bring the bull.
Miller: They stayed on the farm and you just hoped for the best.
Rosqvist-Gerard: Yeah, if the fire had gotten close, we would have kicked the fences down so that they could escape as best they could. But fortunately, we never got close to that.
Miller: We’re talking right now about taking care of pets and other animals during wildfires. Vikki Sheerer is with us. She is a regional coordinator for the Pet Evacuation Team in central Oregon, and Julie Rosqvist-Gerard is a dairy farmer from La Pine. Vikki Sheerer, I’ve had reports that during Hurricane Katrina, a number of people refused evacuation help because at that point they weren’t allowed to take their pets with them. And that some of those people, according to reports, died. How did that national catastrophe affect the way emergency managers thought about pets?
Sheerer: My understanding is now the Red Cross allows personal pets to house in the shelters with them. I know that there was a Red Cross shelter set up in Sisters and the personal animals, personal pets were allowed to house there with them.
Miller: So a change in over the last couple of decades in how emergency managers or responders approach people fleeing their homes. Has that meant changes for the way your organization operates? If you, if you have to take care of fewer pets, does it mean that you’re more likely to take care of livestock?
Sheerer: Yes. Personal pets usually stay with their families if they’re able to evacuate with them. Last year, during the Santiam fires in the valley, people were awakened in the middle of the night and left with just their pajamas and the pets that they could grab. We had a number of animals come in that, at the time they came in, we didn’t know who they belonged to.
Miller: How did they end up, say, at the fairgrounds or wherever you were set up?
Sheerer: Rescue teams went over there and were assisted by fire workers and said, ‘there’s a horse here, there’s a cat with burns here, there’s a pig here that needs to be evacuated’, and they loaded them up in horse trailers and brought them to us.
Miller: Then their people would come at some point, I imagine, very grateful and find their animals in your emergency shelter.
Sheerer: Some of the people were not able to get to us because of where the fire was. Some of them evacuated to the east, and some of them evacuated to the west. There was a number of days where we didn’t know who the animals belonged to. We only knew what address they came from. Eventually, we got phone calls from the owners that said, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t have a home to go back to, so I will not be able to get my animals.’ So in that case we arranged for foster homes and eventually adoption, and we communicated with the pets’ owners so that they had a part in that.
Miller: What tips do you have for animal owners or human friends especially during fire seasons?
Sheerer: I would like everybody to have a crate available for their animals set up with food, water vet records, a picture of their pet with themselves, and let your neighbors know where your pets crate is, because there’s a chance that you might be at work when your neighborhood goes into evacuation. In that case, the officials are not going to let you back into your neighborhood to rescue your pets. But if your neighbor knows where your pet crates are, she or he can bring your pets out with them when they come.
Miller: Vikki Sheerer and Julie Rosqvist-Gerard, thanks very much for joining us today.
Guests: Thank you. Thank you.
Miller: Vikki Sheerer is regional coordinator with the Pet Evacuation Team based in central Oregon. Julie Rosqvist-Gerard is a dairy farmer in La Pine, and she’s one of the people who used the Pet Evacuation Teams services. This was last month during the Darlene fire.
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