Summit County’s animal shelter makes sure no pet is left behind when wildfire hits
July 13, 2018
When fire raged down Buffalo Mountain last month, many Mesa Cortina residents were away from home and unable to return when the evacuation order came down. Aside from the possibility of losing their homes, some were worried about family members left behind. Cats, dogs and other pets were still at home, alone and scared while smoke swirled and sirens blared outside.
Among the many moving pieces in the county's emergency response was Summit County Animal Control & Shelter, which was charged with retrieving pets left in evacuated homes while allowing firefighters and other first responders to worry about the fire and keep humans safe.
Lesley Hall, the shelter's animal control director, said that they got a dozen calls requesting help rescuing animals left at home after the evacuation.
Animal control officers had to work quickly to get to the animals while fire engines rushed up and down the mountain and the air show roared overhead. But even when they got to the homes needing assistance, the officers ran into problems getting in.
"One thing we learned from the fire is that when the power gets cut, garage door openers reset and no longer open," Hall said. "Several of the owners were able to tell us where a spare key was, but in two instances we were given permission to break windows to get in."
Hall urges homeowners to always have an alternative way inside the home that doesn't rely on garage door openers or other electronic devices, such as a spare key outside that can be easily located if described.
However, even after getting inside a house, officers then have to find the animals and then calm them down enough to take them out. Cat owners in particular may know that this process can be difficult or even dangerous.
"Cats like to hide and can be nervous enough with a stranger grabbing them," Hall said. "Our officers have to find the animal wherever they're hiding and safely take them out, and they might be very hard to control if panicked."
To help animal control officers in the event of another evacuation, Hall asks that when owners call in for a rescue that they are familiar with where their animals like to hide and be able to pinpoint that in the house. This is especially crucial if there are multiple animals in a house with different hiding places.
Hall also noted that cats can be very particular about their carriers, often refusing to get into one they're not familiar with. She suggested that cat owners leave their carriers near the door so if a rescue needs to take place, an officer will be able to quickly and safely corral their animal.
Beyond that, Hall urges pet owners to always have a pet emergency kit ready alongside one prepared for the humans.
"The kit should have things like a spare bag of food, pet medications, a toy and something else like a blanket that makes them feel comfortable," Hall said. "It should be something that is ready to grab and go at a moment's notice."
All four rescued animals were eventually reunited with their owners.
"One of my officers told me how a couple was waiting for them at the staging area, looking for the Weimaraner," Hall said. "They were thrilled, they were very worried about him."
While the Buffalo Mountain fire was snuffed out before it could become a real inferno, fires continue to spring up and burn across the state. Animal shelters in affected areas have been filling up with evacuated pets and have been running out of space.
Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) in Glenwood Springs reached out to nearby shelters after the Lake Christine fire broke out, asking if anyone was willing to help take some of their adoptable animals off their hands. Hall said that Summit County stepped up to help as part of an unwritten 'mutual aid' agreement with animal shelters and rescues across the state.
Summit County wound up accepting five cats from CARE. One has already been adopted, but four more — Aries, Arlo, Noodles and Sriracha — are still available for adoption. They join 27 other cats and 17 dogs at the shelter, all looking for their forever homes in Summit County.
To adopt a furry friend, visit the Summit County Animal Control & Shelter located at 58 Nancy's Place in Frisco. To see a list of adoptable animals, visit the shelter's adoption page at Co.Summit.Co.Us/543/Animal-Shelter-Adoption-Information.
The shelter also has a pet evacuation hotline for future emergencies that pet owners should memorize, 970-668-4143.
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