12 May 2016

Alberta Wildfire - Animal Rescue and Reuniting Underway

The rescue of animals left behind during the Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation has not been without drama and controversy.

Initial news stories reported “rogue” rescuers entering the city without permission from the RCMP or other emergency personnel. Officials believing the city was not safe and, rescuer, Sam Sansalone voicing people’s worst fears, telling the Huffington Post, "This is a mass grave, in basements, in crates.''

(Alberta SPCA)
In the meantime, government agencies, humane societies, SPCA’s and rescue groups around the province were marshalling resources and planning the mass rescue operation. The Regional District of Wood Buffalo created an online form and encouraged all evacuees who had to leave pets behind to use this form to facilitate their rescue.

Fort McMurray SPCA staff returned to the city on Friday and, working with other organizations, began to support the animal rescue effort. They re-opened the shelter to provide temporary housing for rescued pets prior to transport to the pet evacuation pickup centre and provided some medical treatment.

The shipping of hundreds of animals to Edmonton began on Sunday.

The Alberta SPCA announced that as of yesterday morning 612 animals had been checked in and health-checked, 50 animals had been reunited with their owners and 67 were scheduled for reunions at the Fort McMurray People and Animal Reunion Centre in Edmonton.

“Sassy has been rescued! We would like to take a few minutes to send out a great big thank you and heartfelt gratitude to those wonderful people who have been rescuing pets who had to be left behind in Fort Mac during the emergency evacuation. No words can convey how great flu [sic] we are for your efforts. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Sincerely hoping all pets are rescued, health and reunited with their families. The stress and uncertainty is overwhelming. Take care, stay safe!” Carol Sparker wrote on the Alberta SPCA Facebook page.

In thanking the organizations involved in the rescue - Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Edmonton Humane Society, Calgary Humane Society, Red Deer & District SPCA Main Page, Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force, Fort McMurray SPCA, Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society - AARCS, ZOE's Animal Rescue Society, Second Chance Animal Rescue Society, Humane Animal Rescue Team (hart), CaliCan Rescue Foundation, Hope Lives Here Animal Rescue Society and all the other volunteers - they showed the large amount of resources involved in making this happen.

Despite best efforts, there is still confusion about what the evacuees should do to find their missing animals.

Pet owners are posting on the facebook pages and twitter accounts of multiple organizations, asking for information about their pets, wondering why no one has given them updates.

“There are so many places to look, but I'm not even certain someone went to Willow's address to save her? I have been looking for her all over FB and I don't know the best source to even follow anymore.” Kim Brown on the Fort McMurray SPCA Facebook page.

HomeSafe, along with Pets Plus Us and Kijiji, are providing complimentary lifetime subscriptions to any pet owner displaced by the wildfire - whether they are missing or not. During displacement and times of stress, it’s easy for animals to get lost. A subscription to this automated lost and found service provides protection in case that happens.

Officials are requesting that all pet owners who left pets behind fill out Wood Buffalo’s online form which can be linked to from almost every animal organization’s website or Facebook page.

Alberta SPCA stated that animal rescue is still taking place 24/7 in the city but the process will take some time - pets need to be rescued, transported, examined and then matched with owner descriptions.

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