Heavy Petting

Heavy Petting: Displaced by Wildfire

Shelter organizations move on the fly, but were already over capacity before evacuations

As a California native, I’m no stranger to wildfires. In fact, I’ve gotten pretty used to my life being disrupted by them every year. To be honest, I figured I’d finally be escaping that phenomenon once I came here to New Mexico but, sadly, it appears the fires have just followed me here, too. Thanks, global warming! Sigh.

As the blazes began burning out of control, the Santa Fe Animal Shelter started to get countless calls from other animal shelters and community members afraid that they would soon be evacuated and who needed to find temporary housing options. Fortunately, the wonderful animal shelter team at Bernalillo County and an emergency trailer from Socorro County quickly mobilized to set up pop-up shelters to house displaced, owned pets.

With those community needs met, we then decided to focus our resources on helping evacuated shelter animals.

It was a tricky moment for us. We were already well over our capacity with shelter animals from our own community (a problem we’ve been dealing with for well over a year and a half now.) So much so, in fact, that we have a pretty long waiting list for owner-surrendered pets. We put our heads together to figure out a reasonable game plan for helping our evacuated shelter friends while still meeting the needs of our existing population.

So how do you take in more animals when you’re already packed to the gills? By calling in favors with friends outside of the area, that’s how! We put out an emergency appeal to all of our transfer partners to take as many animals as possible so that we could make room for evacuated shelter animals from Las Vegas and Los Alamos. Our friends at Animal Humane in Albuquerque stepped up to help us, as well as Best Friends in Utah, Arizona Humane and Austin Pets Alive. We also had help from the National Guard, ASPCA and The Humane Society of the United States. In situations like these, it truly takes a village—and I was so impressed with how beautifully we all worked together to figure this thing out.

Transferring animals to all of our friends allowed us to take in lots more animals from the Animal Welfare Coalition in Las Vegas and from the Los Alamos shelter.

Seeing how my shelter community came together to help the displaced animals was humbling, to say the least. We are all so overburdened and overcrowded to begin with, so to witness the collaboration and creative problem solving happening on the fly was nothing short of amazing. It would have been easy for any of these organizations to say, “Sorry, we’ve got our own problems to deal with,” but instead everyone said, “We’re here to help. Let’s figure this out!”

The almost unimaginable devastation serves as a reminder that we must protect what is most precious–our lives and the lives of our loved ones, including our animal companions. For better or worse, it appears that these kinds of natural disasters are becoming more the norm than ever before. No matter where you are in Santa Fe County, the risks are ever present—so it’s critically important to have a plan in case your neighborhood is ever threatened with angry wildfires.

Here are some tips to help you stay prepared if the worst happens:

Create a list of hotels and motels that allow pets. Make sure that you find a few options, as some locations may also be in the path of a wildfire. Several websites let you search specifically for lodgings that allow pets, including bringfido.com, expedia.com and hotels.petswelcome.com.

If you must go to a place with your family that doesn’t allow pets, like an emergency evacuation center, look for a pet sitter, kennel, vet’s office, or animal shelter, as sometimes these places make special arrangements for pets in cases of emergencies and natural disasters. Call ahead.

Download the FEMA mobile app to your smart phone. This app sends you notifications about natural disasters from the National Weather Service, gives you preparedness tips, and helps locate shelters among other things. Some reviewers claim the app sends too many notifications, but the app gets updates frequently to address user issues, and it’s better to be too informed than not informed at all.

The ASPCA mobile app can also help you prepare for a disaster, manage your pet’s health records, and provide you with resources to help you find a lost pet should you get separated.

For more information, visit sfhumanesociety.org/fireevacresources. The crisis isn’t over, so our resources are very stretched. If you’d like to help, donate at sfhumanesociety.harnessapp.com/wv2/donate?checkout=3870

Stay safe out there, my friends!

Jack Hagerman is the CEO of Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society

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