By Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Leaving pets or livestock behind can be one of the hardest things those forced to leave their homes due to wildfire or other disasters have to do.
Daryl Meyers knows first hand the anguish of having to decide who goes and who stays.
“We were evacuated in the Garnet fire in 1994,” said Meyers, who now works with other Animal Lifeline Emergency Response Team (ALERT) volunteers to look after animals impacted by disaster in B.C.
“I had two small children and a myriad of animals and I had to leave some of those animals behind. When you have to go, you go. You just take whatever you can in the moment and say a prayer for the rest.
“My children were devastated and crying. I didn’t know if we were going to be able to return to the house.”
The ALERT society did not exist at that time and was formed shortly afterwards in response to the fire’s impact on animal lives.
“So many of them perished in that fire and there was a real outpouring from people of, ‘what can we do, how can we do this,’” said Meyers.
In the years since then, ALERT and its all-volunteer group have helped or saved thousands of domestic animals of all shapes and sizes.
The group works closely with other government agencies and organizations like the BC-SPCA which has its own help program for pets and people impacted by wildfires.
The SPCA has also helped hundreds of pets and expects to be looking after many of those animals for some time to come, especially for those who have lost their homes.
It has also received considerable donations to help with the extensive work they are doing.
“During these unbelievably difficult times I am so deeply moved by the lengths people will go to for their beloved furry family members and the kind generosity of our communities,” said Eileen Drever, senior officer protection and stakeholders relations for the BC-SPCA in a news release.
For the past month at the fires in the South and Central Okanagan, the small army of 30 ALERT volunteers have been working almost daily, providing a variety of care options.
“Right now between the two fires (McDougall Creek and Cascade Creek) we’ve helped close to 400 animals from Lake Country to the border,” said Meyers. “These are animals that wouldn’t have been helped if we weren’t there and I don’t know what would have happened to them.”
In addition to helping find foster locations for displaced animals, the volunteers also, where they can safely, look after those left behind that could not be caught.
“We also do what we call maintenance where we go in and feed the animals while people are evacuated,” said Meyers. “We’ve been actioning quite a few places in the South Okanagan and Similkameen areas, in West Kelowna we had about 100 properties.”
The good news is things are slowly get back to normal with evacuation alerts and orders being rescinded.
About 100 of the 150 livestock animals were returned to owners at Desert Park where they had been staying during the fire.
ALERT, funded entirely by donations, is no longer in need of active foster homes but are accepting names for future needs at: www.alertcanada.org. Help is also still available through the SPCA spca.bc.ca or its Animal Helpline at 1-855-622-7722.
Mark Brett is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for the Penticton Herald.
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