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Group helping with evacuees’ pets and animals

Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team launches into action following regional evacuation orders.
Volunteers with the Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team are set up at the Kinsmen Arena to help evacuees with their pets and animals. Pictured above, left to right: Lana Banham, Martina Frensemeier, Wendy Prinz and Robyn Skobalski.

A group of volunteers are setting up shelters for pets of evacuees from local wildfires.

The Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team (CDART) has set up at the Kinsmen Arena with temporary shelters for companion animals such as dogs and cats.

Ron McConnell, CDART national vice-president, says the organization has been operating for the last three days.

“Right now we have just about a half a dozen volunteers that are just rotating through there,” said McConnell. “…we are always looking for more volunteers.

“What we’re looking for is people who can, for example, work in the shelter, take dogs for a walk, if they need to, or clean out cages and kitty litter, feed animals, greet people and talk with people, people who can do administrative duties, sign people in because every animal that comes in has a paper trail with it.”

McConnell says demand is building for CDART services following the evacuation orders in the Moyie, St. Mary and Lake Koocanusa areas.

“I think, now that people know we’re there, the more they know that there is somebody there to help, the more they’ll come forward,” he said.

An animal shelter for larger farm animals out at the Wycliffe Exhibition Grounds was approved with RDEK support on Thursday, according to local volunteers.

McConnell said he was able to take advantage of exhibition grounds out near Princeton when the fires were burning in the Interior, which helped CDART safely protect larger farm animals.

“Because it’s set up for rodeos and cattle and sheep and goats and chickens and all that, it was absolutely perfect. At one point, I had almost 500 animals,” McConnell said.

“There’s always a good chance that you’ll get these hobby farms that in a lot of cases, that’s their livelihood, the egg farms and things like that, the local people that come into the farmers’ markets. You look at someone like Sharon Mielnichuk out at Fort Steele Farms, where would she take her animals? She’s got all those chickens; she’s got all those eggs. She’s got horses, llamas, and everything else. You can’t just pack up a dozen horses and move them.”

Evacuees who require CDART assistance must report to the Kinsmen Arena to request help for their animals, including the rescue of animals from evacuated properties.

The group put out a call for donations, the most pressing need being fuel cards or cash for fuel for trucks to haul trailers and farm animals as volunteers are currently paying for everything out of pocket. Other needs include pet food (or food for the volunteers), shelter help and other items, contact the shelter manager at 778-205-4995 or email at

A local furniture business even donated three beds for the volunteers to sleep in, McConnell added. Someone else also donated 1,000 bales of hay for horses that are currently being fostered out to local acerages or farm properties.

“That’s where, whether it’s a couple of local people who have some extra dog crates in the back yard or the garage, or a local business that might be able to donate a couple bags of dog food or cat food - those types of things,” said McConnell.

“Our volunteers need to be helped out as well. None of us get paid, we’re on our own expense for meals and travel and things like that.

“…We want to be able to feed our people and take care of them.”

Even if any evacuees weren’t able to bring their animals with them, CDART has specially trained volunteers who can go into the evacuated order zone — if it is safe — to attempt to retrieve an animal or even leave out food and water for them.

Some evacuees from Moyie came into the reception centre and told the volunteers that they had to leave home, and the cat was outside when the evacuation order came down.

“Our team said, ‘We’ll go take a look’,” McConnell said. “About four hours later, they had the cat. So the cat has been reunited with its family.”

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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