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Fort Mac pets: MRU researcher tackling problems with animal evacuation

Animal rescuers tell all to help improve evacuation in next disaster

Animal rescue workers wait to get entry to Fort McMurray, Alta., on Friday, May 6, 2016. Officials said shifting winds were giving the embattled northern Alberta city a break, but they added the fire that forced 80,000 people from their homes remained out of control and was likely to burn for weeks.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Animal rescue workers wait to get entry to Fort McMurray, Alta., on Friday, May 6, 2016. Officials said shifting winds were giving the embattled northern Alberta city a break, but they added the fire that forced 80,000 people from their homes remained out of control and was likely to burn for weeks.

For humans, the Fort McMurray evacuation wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, but eventually exhausted families made it out of the flames OK.

The same can’t be said for animals. Some who were left behind (not by choice) as owners were evacuated with seconds to spare, and others who were too stubborn to leave – or couldn’t be transported.

Pets were left stranded and people like Bryan Jones hit wall after wall trying to connect the animals to their owners, depending on firefighters to keep the companions fed and watered.

Mount Royal University professor Kimberly Williams is spending 12 months examining the ins and outs of the animal evacuation. She’s speaking to activists, families and officials about how the Ft. Mac rescue went, where the issues were.

Williams is a pet mom herself, and having been on the ground after hurricane Katrina, noted a lack of animal evacuee planning – which is why when similar trends emerged in Fort McMurray she wanted to learn more.

So far, she’s clear on one thing: there wasn’t a plan, and communication between officials and rescue groups was lacking.

“Because there wasn’t a plan, there were a lot of communication gaps,” Williams said. “Another thing I’ve heard is folks weren’t sure with what to do with all the volunteers and donations…agencies were just overwhelmed with people wanting to help.”

She’s also heard that all stakeholders desperately wanted a plan to follow.

Bryan Jones can attest to her finding so far. He said when all was said and done, he had enough donated resources to rescue all of the animals in Fort Mac,  and feed and house them for months.

“We got into the city, met up at Fire Hall 5 in Fort Mac…and after getting 27 in 40 minutes, the cops wouldn’t let us back in,” Jones said. “We ran into some issues, but learned a lot along the way.”

That’s why he’s looking for partners to help him create Bryan’s Animal Rescue Association. And Williams is trying to help connect enthusiastic planners for an improved rescue idea.

“People are working on that in their own little silos,” Williams said. “Everybody wants a plan, but lots of folks aren’t agreeing on what that could actually look like.”

If you want to participate in the study, contact Williams by visiting her web page.

Kimberly Williams

Courtesy/ Mount Royal University

Kimberly Williams

Jones’ vision is to have a group that’s recognized by municipalities and provincial bodies as the first responders for animal rescue.

When disaster strikes anywhere across Canada, he’s hoping to use his association to connect with local shelters and rescue bodies as a mid-point between rescue and reuniting pets with families.

Working with technology and donations he would then find animals in need of help, scan them for micro-chips and contact owners to let them know their loved-one is safe. Then, his partnerships could help animals get home.

But he said money is tight, and he can’t do it alone.

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