For the staff of the Fort McMurray SPCA, their wildfire story began 48 hours ahead of most of the rest of the community. They actually evacuated on Sunday, May 1st, as the Gregoire area was under an evacuation order.
“We spent hours on the phone finding foster placements for about 30 animals,” shared Tara Clarke, Executive Director, Fort McMurray SPCA on the February 7th IMPACT radio program.
Staff drove animals to temporary homes in the locations in the community deemed safe at that time. When the full-scale evacuation of the entire city was called on May 3rd, those animals stayed in the care of those foster families and fled to safety, both north and south.
It is hard to fathom the scope of the disaster from a pet perspective. However, you can begin to get a feel for the scale of things by the volume of messages that came pouring into the Fort McMurray SPCA.
“In the first 24 hours, we fielded thousands of phone calls, private messages and texts,” said Clark. “Those calls and messages were heartbreaking. We mobilized as quickly as we could to support the efforts being made by many to extract, shelter, then transport those animals to the reunification centre in Edmonton.”
In the midst of chaos and personal losses, the staff of the SPCA went above and beyond to helps traumatized pets, pet owners and their families.
“We worked in concert to provide support and resources to the community,” she said. “We not only returned to support the extraction and evacuation efforts. We also helped by collecting information and data so that those that evacuated would understand and know where pet-friendly accommodations might be, where veterinarian clinics were available, and where free supplies and resources could be found.”
As the community began to return, the staff of the Fort McMurray SPCA were ready with pet re-entry kits. For Clarke, this was a part of the story that she’ll never forget.
“To see many of the pet owners come to get supplies with pets we had seen come through the shelter during evacuation was incredible,” she said. “To see the disposition of that animal with their families, as opposed to being on their own, was truly amazing.”
There was a fear that surrenders would be high and that adoptions might be low in the months following reentry. While they did see a spike in the number of surrenders, they were quite surprised and delighted with what happened in terms of finding homes for pet.
“Adoptions have been incredibly strong since we rolled out our comprehensive adoption program in September,” said Clarke. “Pets help us connect to our neighbours and to our community. There are also numerous positive benefits and impacts on our wellbeing and physical health.”
As the community continues to rebuild and recover, the Fort McMurray SPCA is doing their best to understand the needs and concerns of pet owners. They are planning four different impact surveys in 2017. They are also continuing to share information about emergency preparedness and planning for pets.
“With the support of a great team and a strong board, we continue to move things forward.”