In recent weeks, the devastating fires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, have driven over 80 000 people from their homes. But they weren’t the only ones affected. In the course of the evacuation, an estimated 600 pets were left behind – often by individuals at school and work.
Desperate to save their pets, but unable to return home, many owners took to the internet. Some reported their missing pet on a municipal rescue website. Other issued an SOS via social media. The pets varied from conventional companions like dogs and cats to “hamsters, birds, snakes, parrots – you name it”. One person even pleaded for help recovering 32 geckos!
On May 8, several organizations heeded the calls. With the fires relatively contained and winds blowing away from the city, the Alberta SPCA and the Calgary Humane Society set out with pet food and water. The local animal control service also toured the city, collecting abandoned pets on the streets.
Several “rogue” rescue groups soon joined the effort. Armed with a crowbar, they broke into the homes of worried pet owners and rounded up pets. It wasn’t always easy. In one case, they used an owner’s voice on speaker phone to coax out a terrified Chihuahua. However, in the end, the group successfully retrieved 230 animals (before being ejected by police due to looting concerns).
The rescued animals are now in an emergency holding facility in nearby Edmonton, Alberta. They are receiving care and “mounds of kibble”, much of it donated by animal lovers and non-profits like The Pack Project. They will remain there until healthy enough to return to their owners.
But tragically, not all owners will have the means to keep their beloved pets. Already, “some displaced families have decided that caring for a pet is too overwhelming during such a traumatic time”. In the words of Miranda Jordan-Smith, CEO of the Edmonton Humane Society, “We have had some animals surrendered from evacuees. It’s disheartening, but when people don’t have a home, they will do this.”
This will likely increase the stress on the city’s animal care unit. With space for 60 cats and 60 dogs, the unit is already at maximum capacity. Local shelters have volunteered to house the overflow, but they will surely require additional food, blankets, toys, and other support.
If you’d like to help, please donate to the Alberta SPCA, the Edmonton Humane Society, or The Pack Project. Also, consider completing Op4G surveys for our partners, the Animal House Shelter, Austin Humane Society, and Dell City Humane Society.