By now Fort McMurray Alberta, and news of the massive wildfires that have swept through and consumed an entire city, has made the headlines. It is one of the most frightening and disturbing disasters with the largest displacement of people, that many including myself have ever seen in Canada.
The wildfires engulfed Fort McMurray in what can only be compared to as a hellish inferno. Images are surreal, the stuff made of nightmares and, as of today there appears no relief in sight. The fires have already ravaged more than 85,000 hectares of land, or to put it in perspective – areas large enough to consume the city of Manhattan, a few times over, and wipe out central London. It was reported that without rain and perhaps a miracle, the fire will continue to grow as it moves south. Help is coming in from all over to fight it, but fire crews are expected to have a very long, dangerous and seemingly futile battle ahead.
Some 80,000 plus residents have been displaced and miraculously no loss of human life has been reported to date, however these people have literally lost everything forced to leave with little to no possessions, the clothes on their backs, and, in many cases without their beloved pets. Thousands of pets have been reported to be stranded and understandably people are desperate to get them out.
These are just some of the missing pets, the majority cats, all from the Fort McMurray Fire Emergency Animal Assistance Facebook page. Their page is updated daily.
I can wholeheartedly empathize with those who were forced to abandon their beloved animals. The feeling of utter helplessness of not being able to take them with you and not knowing when you will be able to get to them, wondering if they are alive or have enough food/water to last until they are rescued. While some people were fortunate and had time to get their pets, many were forced to leave while at work or, had no chance of returning for them. In any type of disaster whether it’s man-made or natural, animals are often the forgotten victims and the last to receive assistance if any. The reality in most scenarios like this is local authorities have little to no plans in place to help stranded pets and, for pet owners and rescue groups this is distressing and frustrating.
One group of small volunteers decided to ignore the evacuation order and went in to try to save as many pets as they could. Wyatt Colquhoun-Rivard and his group, members of Western Canadian Powerstrokes, a group of “truck enthusiasts who do charity work” got tired of waiting and worked as quickly as they could, rescuing about a dozen animals, before the police shut them down. In one apartment they busted down a door to retrieve two terrified cats “After we broke the door down there was hair everywhere,” he said. “You could tell the cats were scared, and they just didn’t know what to do. It was a total apocalypse area.”
The pets and animals who were lucky enough to make it out are getting help from the many animal rescue groups across Alberta, but there is little these groups can do right now for those left behind. “At this point there is no one who is going into the homes because it hasn’t been declared safe yet,” said R.J. Bailot with the Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force — the Calgary organization coordinating the relief effort. Many people, businesses, shelters, rescue groups and pet food companies have offered help and are doing whatever they can with those they can. Some flights evacuating people welcomed pets on board to fly with their families including Canadian North Airlines who tweeted this photo of Meow Meow the cat. After one of the Fort McMurray evacuees went into labour Canadian North said that their flight team would be looking after Meow Meow for the time being.
In the meantime volunteers on the ground are on standby waiting for the go ahead to go in to get the pets left behind. Evacuees forced to leave their animals behind in their homes in Fort McMurray are asked to fill out an animal assistance request form through the Fort McMurray Fire Emergency Animal Assistance Community on Facebook. This page was created as a resource to help those affected by the fire to place their animals in short-term care.
“If you are in need of assistance please call 780-762-3636 or fill out this form and we will attempt to get the information to local authorities for rescue. Those who have their animals, we are able to place animals in temporary care in numerous facilities and homes across the province and supplies in almost every major city.”
Another request form has been included for those forced to abandon a pet during the evacuation the Fort McMurray area. This form can be found HERE where you can provide Pet Rescue details to allow a field team to respond. Home entry will be facilitated by a locksmith as a last resort.
A lost and found Pet Map was also created where people can locate lost or found animals this covers the many cats, dogs, bunnies and even livestock. The majority of stranded pets are cats, which by their nature are usually difficult to rescue due to the fact that they will often hide and remain out of sight.
- Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society or AARCS on Facebook
- Second Chance Animal Rescue Society or SCARS
- The Lac La Biche Regional Humane Society on Facebook
- Supporters of Alberta Animal Rescues (SOAAR) on Facebook
- The Edmonton Humane Society (EHS) is taking displaced pets without owners
- Pet owners can call the local SPCA at 780-743-8997
- Fort McMurray SPCA on Facebook
How to help
If you have family or friends in or near Fort McMurray please share this information. There may be someone out there who has lost a pet or simply isn’t aware of how to connect to rescue groups or get help.
Temporary homes for displaced animals are also in desperate need at this time, if you are in a position to provide housing for cats, dogs, or livestock please let any of the these rescue groups listed here know, and they will set it up or point you in the right direction.
If you are able to help out monetarily, outside of the Red Cross, donations specifically for animals are being collected by:
As this situation continues to develop, there will no doubt be tragedy and not every animal will make it out, the though of this is literally breaks my heart for the precious lives lost and for their humans who will have lost a beloved companion. I have to hope that there are still many more amazing rescue stories waiting to be told and reunions to be made.
My thoughts are with all those animals who have already perished, those still waiting for rescue and all people devastated by the wildfires.
A good reminder is to be prepared as best we can, that includes having a pet emergency preparedness kit ready, and in cases were you can’t get to pets to evacuate them, information and pet photo’s on hand to provide to rescue groups. Ensuring your pet is also licensed, microchipped or tattooed, and your contact information is current will help get your pet home should you be separated!