21 July 2006

Pets and the Fire

I know it's been some time since I last wrote anything, but I was feeling depressed and then there was a fire. The fire which is officially called the Sawtooth Complex Fire burnt over 61,000 acres and came within a mile (or less) of my house. In fact, it was burning so fiercely and was totally uncontained that this area, known as Flamingo Heights, was evacuated for sometime. So, I loaded up my pickup with my valuables, stuffed the critters in carriers, and left. I won't be brave here -- I was scared that I would never see my house again.

But the moment I left my house, I had another serious problem. I had no place to go.

Yes, the Red Cross had set up an evacuation center in town but there were 2 problems. First, the main road from here to there was closed due to the fire. Second, the Red Cross in this area at least does not allow animals in their shelters. In fact, in last weekend's local paper, there was a picture of an elderly man with his small dog in his arms standing in front of the shelter's doors which had "NO PETS" posted on them. What was he going to do? Abandon his dog, which may be the only 'thing' he has left after the fire?

I called the Red Cross and asked if they knew what I was suppose to do. They gave me the names (but not the phone numbers) of local animal shelters which were taking in pets. I called them. (Always take a local phone book with you when you evacuate.) The animal shelters were taking dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, emus, etc, but not parrots. "Parrots are too delicate for us to deal with." WHAT??? My parrots all were in cages, so the only thing anyone had to do was fill a dish with water and one with seed and they would have survived just fine. And I really wasn't planning on leaving them there alon except for a few potty breaks. In fact, I would rather deal with a cockatiel in a cage than a scared pitbull on a leash any day!!!

So, while sitting in the parking lot of a local grocery store, I called a couple of local people who weren't in evacuated areas. Basically, I was just asking to part my truck in their driveway and maybe to use their bathroom, but not to let my cats and parrots run thru their house. I called 3 people, and was turned down by 3 people. I finally got ahold of my vet in Big Bear City and she had no problem with me coming up there (50 miles away), and that's were I would have headed had not the mandatory evacuation been made voluntary.

As soon as the mandatory evacuation was made voluntary, I unvolunteered and went home. Not only would my animals be more comfortable at home, but I had to go to the bathroom!

It's been over a week since I had my little evacuation, but I'm still mad as hell at how I was treated by the Red Cross, by animal shelters, and by my acquaintances. Didn't the Red Cross learn anything from Katrina? Do they honestly expect anyone to leave a pet behind -- a pet the person has had for 10 or 15 years? What happened to pulling together in times of need? I talked to one animal controll officier who was picking up the neighbor's goats (hey, if you have large animals and no trailer, they will help!) and he was disgusted with the Red Cross over this "NO PETS" policy as it only made their jobs harder.

The local radio station had a call in show about the fire so I called in and voiced my concerns and problems with evacuating with pets. I was told that the Red Cross's concern was the people first. Fine, people probably should come first, but if people will not leave a cherished pet behind because there is no place to go, then what good has the Red Cross done?

Until the Red Cross changes its rules, I refuse to donate any money, artwork, or time to them. They were not there for me, so why should I be there for them? Yes, I'm bitter, but my pets are part of my family and what they did was to tell me I had to choose which members of my family would survive and which might burn to death. I'm also going to try to find out who sets this "NO PETS" policy and see if I can get it changed.

One ray of sunshine in all this was the Hi-Dez Kennel. The next day they set up an animal shelter and would accept ALL animals including parrots. And if I didn't mind sleeping on the floor, I was more than wlecome to stay with my animals. While it was a bit late for my excursion, it was wonderful to know that I did have a place to go if I had to evacuate again.

Here a a few pet evacuation tips that I learned:
  1. Have enough carriers and small cages on hand for all the critters. I was one carrier short so my macaw rode on my shoulder the whole day. Since the fire, I have purchased another carrier or two.
  2. Have the carriers handy. I had time, luckily, to find all the carriers and small cages which were 'hidden' in my garage. Now they are in 2 locations which are easy to get to.
  3. Test fit the carriers in your car/truck. Since I have parrots and this was a fire with lots of smoke, I didn't want to put them in the back of my pickup, but fitting them in the cab as a challenge. I finally figured out how, but if I had had a carrier for the macaw, it wouldn't have worked. So, the new carriers are smaller and will fit much nicer.
  4. Get the pet used to the carrier before the crunch time.
  5. If there is a possibility of being evacuated, confine cats (and small dogs) to a spare bathroom, so they can't hide when it's time to go. One cat hid behind the bed, which I had to move to get to him.
  6. Take any special food (or medication). Parrots tend to eat only the food they are used to, so make sure you take some of it -- say for a couple of days. And since my cats eat a raw food diet (Emily will get sick on commercial cat food), I packed a cooler with their food. I actually now have small tubs of the parrots normal food ready to go at a moment's notice, so I don't have to run around looking for containers.
  7. Take water. Since my zoo was confined to my pickup cab and since it was hot, having some water for them to drink was especially needed. I had also brought a spray bottle which I used to mist the parrots and help cool them.
  8. Take paper towels. We barely got moving when one of my cats had an accident.
  9. Take a small litter box and some litter. I have an old, small litter box that is just big enough for a cat, but in case of emergency, it should work. (It's about the size of a large cake pan.) My only problem was since I had no place to go, I just could let the cats out of their carriers to use the box, lest they run off. I guess if I really had to live in my truck for a couple of days, I could have move the birds outside (in their cages), put the litter box on the floor of the cab, and then let the cats out to use it. Hmm, better not forget the pooper-scooper!
  10. Find several places to go now, before the disaster is happening. I now have 2 people in nearby towns that will take my and my zoo, plus my vet. But quite honestly, I will be very hesitant to evacuate again.

The bottomline is this: if you have pets and you need to evacuate, chances are for the first day or so, you will be totally on your own, so you need to have food, water, and potty stuff covered for you and your pets.

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