Kristine Lee, Edmonton Sun

May 4, 2016

They have no idea what has happened to their animals, say Fort McMurray residents who were forced to leave their pets behind when the order came for a mandatory evacuation of the city. The animals have been left to fend for themselves because only emergency crews are permitted to enter the city.

The founder of the “Farm Animal Rescue and Re-homing Movement”, Melissa Foley, says “The help is completely lacking. There isn’t a lot anybody is able to do to get them out or get them moving.” Most of the rescue efforts won’t take place until after the fires are contained. This is especially so with regard to horses and other large livestock that were not able to be readily moved. The Alberta Equestrian Federation said it is compiling lists of people who are willing to help once they are allowed back into the area, according to the Executive Director, Sonia Dantu. She advised that they are also raising money for feed, water, transportation and veterinary care. She continued: “We are trying to help as much as we can – We are not actually on the ground. They won’t let us in. Humans are their first priority, which I understand; but it’s very, very tough for the horse owners.”

One of the area horse owners, Megan Bastien, had to make the difficult decision to let three of her horses free from their pen in hope their natural survival instincts would save them. Two additional horses of Ms. Bastien were loaded onto a trailer and moved to safety. The other

trailer meant to transport the other three got caught in the traffic gridlock as people fled the city. She posted photos of her horses on Facebook asking people to contact her if they saw the three missing horses and the Facebook posting was shared almost 2000 times.

There are not many people with large animals in the Fort McMurray area, with only 15 recorded horse owners with land in the area. There is also the Clearwater Horse Club, a large stable, which had been evacuated by Sunday evening. The Club moved their 100 horses to their facilities at locations north and south of the city. Some were placed in backyards and only three were left to fend for themselves after Tuesday’s chaos. The Forestry Department has offered to help round up some of the loose horses.

Domestic pet owners have been in a similar situation, with little luck when they called around to locate their pets. “Smoky” and “Smutty”, two of the cats of Trudy Lushman who was trying to find someone to rescue her two cats trapped in her apartment when her husband couldn’t make it home in time to pick them up because he was working at the time of the evacuation order. After calling the RCMP and other phone numbers, she turned to Twitter in desperation asking “Is there any way I can get my two cats out of my apartment in Thickwood? Can anyone help?”

Individuals, kennels and farms have joined to help those that have their pets but don’t necessarily have accommodations. The owner of “Better Than Homes Pet Boarding”, Ashley Mitchell, sacrificed her vacation to stay in Fort McMurray and offer free boarding for those in need. In a short period of time, she took in 19 dogs, 14 cats and a chinchilla, leaving space for 21 additional dogs. She said that it was so rewarding seeing the pet owners leave with peace of mind.

Josie Van Lent, Dean of Agricultural Sciences at Lakeland College, Vermillion Campus, advised that there is room for at least 80 horses, other large livestock and dogs. They are preparing to house 300 people at the Lloydminster campus.