Patrick White, The Globe and Mail

May 7, 2016

“Atlas”, the name of the eight-month old puppy of Louise Cruz, was a gift for her fourteenth birthday. Louise was at school on Tuesday May 3 when the Fort McMurray school received an evacuation order and her thoughts went immediately to Atlas. She and her brother took a cab to their home in the Beacon Hill area, only to find that the road was blocked because the flames from the forest fire were too close. She is now living at an Edmonton area hotel with her family. Since May 3, Louise has been frantically calling every animal agency in Fort McMurray. The Cruz family did not know if their house was still standing. On Friday May 7 Louise received a call at the hotel where she had been receiving numerous phone calls from family and friends. She then saw a photo of one of the animal rescue volunteers holding Atlas and by Friday afternoon Atlas was waiting to be picked up in Edmonton. The family cried tears of joy.

Louise and her family, like hundreds of other Fort McMurray residents, had joined the line of evacuating vehicles on Highway 63. Atlas was left to an unknown fate along with an estimated 600 other pets in the area of the city. Now that the evacuation of the residents is complete, “a high tech animal exodus is now if full-swing.” Authorized and unauthorized volunteers have ventured into the city and environs to remove the pets by any means necessary. A website has been set up for the purpose of reporting stranded pets, the results being posted on an on-line map. There are now lots of dogs and cats listed on the site, of course, but one pet owner has 32 geckos that require rescue. There are also birds, snakes, parrots and a hamster registered, along with dwarf boa constrictors, ball pythons and a bearded dragon lizard named Spike.

The Edmonton Humane Society and other animal agencies in Alberta have been inundated with donations from pet lovers around Fort McMurray. There are pallets of food ready for shipment to the evacuation sites, advises Miranda Jordan-Smith, Chief Executive Officer. “The Edmonton community is always so giving!” The Animal Care Unit of the City of Edmonton has been taxed by the evacuation. The agency’s capacity is 60 dogs and 60 cats and it is an overflow situation, with other agencies offering to assist.

Some displaced families find that they cannot cope with caring for a pet and have surrendered their pets to the Humane Society. Ms. Jordan-Smith finds this disheartening; but, when people don’t have a home, they will do this. The rescue effort has been joined by private companies. A Canadian North airlines flight permitted dogs to ride in the coach section of the aircraft with their owner. The RCMP has had to evict some overzealous animal rescue volunteers from Fort McMurray because they didn’t have adequate permission from the municipality. The local Animal Control Agency staff has been doing the rounds to feed some pets.