Volunteers practice drills, identify shelter locations.
Volunteers practice drills, identify shelter locations.
Disasters never happen at a convenient time and strong emotions of fear and uncertainty can run high when emergencies force humans to evacuate their homes.
Statistics from FEMA show that in emergency evacuations, most people won’t leave home without their animals, but with a plan in place, they will be better prepared to evacuate quickly.
Such evacuations can also be frightening for others in the animal kingdom, including household pets such as cats and dogs. However, until recently, there has been a lack of safe havens for evacuated farm animals, such as horses, ponies, mules, donkeys, goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, rabbits, llamas and alpacas.
Disasters have increased in size and frequency, and as communities grow, more animal owners are affected. Fortunately, Yavapai County is proactive in emergency preparedness. Serving the households of Yavapai County, two dedicated non-profit organizations partner with Emergency Management to provide animal shelter services at no cost to animal owners.
Animal Disaster Services (ADS) provides shelter to pets and small companion animals displaced by evacuations. Large Animal Shelters and Emergency Readiness (LASER) provides a safe haven for barn animals during evacuations, sheltering equines, goats, sheep, poultry, pigs, llamas, alpacas and emus. Both organizations are powered entirely by volunteers and donations; there are no paid positions and no government funding is provided.
This spring, the outreach resources of both LASER and ADS have been merged to create a stronger force in emergency situations to help animals, large and small, in both urban and rural communities.
“In 2023, it’s a kind of renewed partnership between LASER and ADS,” said Cathy Heath, LASER director and secretary. “We’ve always worked alongside each other, because we both deal with animals. This year, we thought it would be good to join our efforts and get the message out about emergency preparedness and about the resources available for animals and our offer to make presentations to communities to help inform them.”
The two non-profits are members of the Yavapai County COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster), which is comprised of more than 20 organizations that may be activated to help people affected by disaster.
With similar missions, ADS and LASER address not only animal needs during a disaster, but also the safety of neighbors as well. They have teamed up to make community presentations about the resources they offer to individuals, families and households in the county.
Heath notes that LASER has been activated by Yavapai County officials seven times for local wildfires and has been on standby six times. “The April 2022 Crooks Fire struck early in the year and took everyone by surprise,” she said. “LASER sheltered 29 animals for the evacuated residents of Walker for an unprecedented 14 days. Our communities must always be prepared.”
Heath said the sheltered animals included chickens, turkeys, goats and horses. “There was plenty of food. Olsen’s Grain provides the hay. That’s one of our great community partners.”
It was challenging to prepare for the wildfire season during extreme winter conditions, she said, but efforts have been stepped up in the spring. “It’s been a very wet winter, so LASER held our first drill at the Yavapai County Office of Emergency Management on March 29,” Heath said. “The entire intake process was simulated with areas for our greeters and stalls. Some volunteers did role playing as animal owners, arriving at the LASER shelter with virtual animals and a variety of situations. The process was then reviewed in a roundtable discussion with input from everyone who participated.”
There was another session in April, with two more scheduled for May and June.
Volunteers are at the heart of both organizations, and in LASER alone, there are currently about 60 volunteers.
“We’ve picked up a lot of new volunteers,” Heath noted. “It’s stayed pretty strong. We have a lot of compassionate people here. Everyone pulls together when they are needed.”
Shelters are available at various predetermined locations depending on the locale and movement of disasters. The primary LASER shelter is in Prescott Valley, off Highway 89A, near Arizona Down. There, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors has dedicated a parcel with 190 stalls as a Large Animal Evacuation Shelter and, under a written agreement, LASER will supply and staff it during evacuations.
Also, fundraising events for animal shelters have been effective. “In 2020, in spite of the pandemic, our communities rallied to raise over $40,000 to build a LASER shelter at the Chino Valley Equestrian Park,” Heath said. “This community has recognized this need, and they have always rallied for us. We’ve had great community support.”
Heath is one of six members of the LASER Board of Directors. “We are all very dedicated. What’s great about our board, each of us brings a different experience to the table, so we have a great balance within our board.”
Founded in 1999, ADS has provided shelter to pets displaced by fires and flooding, as well as warming shelters in the winter and cooling shelters in the summers when residents have been impacted by major power outages.
“One of my goals has been to reach out to organizations and work together to inform as many people as possible about pet emergency preparedness,” said ADS President Nancy Stamile. “I’m very happy to say we are achieving this goal. Working with a variety of rescue groups has also given us a better understanding of all the different evacuation needs. We are so proud to be a part of helping families, pets and other organizations in emergencies.”
Most recently, ADS provided two shelters simultaneously, with one in Camp Verde and the other in Black Canyon City, as a result of recent flooding, which impacted multiple communities throughout Yavapai County.
Supply trailers make ADS services mobile, as they are ready to be deployed to predetermined shelter locations within Yavapai County. Shelter locations have been selected based upon availability, accessibility and proximity to potential American Red Cross shelters.
“We always have to be ready,” Heath said. “With the Crook Fire, no one expected a fire that early in the year. They’re saying there’s really no fire season anymore; it could happen anytime.” QCBN
By Betsey Bruner, QCBN
Courtesy Photo: Large Animal Shelters and Emergency Readiness volunteers train for evacuations caused by wildfires, like the 2017 Goodwin Fire, and other disasters, such as recent flooding events.