The 'night of the great goat herd'
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 67% of people will not evacuate during an emergency without their animals, said Linda Bacon, founder of Southern Oregon Emergency Aid.
“Animals play such a huge part in people’s lives whether they’re farm animals or a little poodle who has nail polish on her nails,” Bacon said.
SOEA is a 4-year-old, volunteer-driven organization in its first year as a nonprofit. It evacuates livestock and companion animals in Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Curry, Siskiyou and Del Norte counties because of wildfire.
More than 400 volunteers work together to evacuate and find appropriate temporary housing for animals large and small. Often animals are sent to local fairgrounds, but some animals don’t do well in that environment, especially when the animal is afraid, Bacon said.
Some volunteers provide host farms for the animals and care for them free of charge.
“The only animal we don’t evacuate is spiders,” Bacon joked. “I don’t do spiders, but I’ll do everything else.”
SOEA started because of a friend in need, she said. Bacon had called county officials to ask about available resources for evacuating horses, but she quickly learned there were no such programs.
“I went on Facebook and asked if anyone had a trailer we could borrow in case she needed to evacuate, and it just snowballed from there,” Bacon said. “There’s no agencies that help. The emergency plan for animal owners was to make arrangements with your neighbors and friends. There was a hole that we could fill.”
People began flooding her with offers of help.
“Animal people stick together,” Bacon said.
Hundreds of volunteers have evacuated hundreds of animals every year since, Bacon said.
“We have access to horse trailers, dog kennels, barns, pastures, stock trailers; we have a woman who takes turtles, and a woman who takes exotic birds,” Bacon said.
She asks that people in need of evacuation aid call her at 541-226-1124 or email email@example.com during a Level 1 evacuation period so she can make arrangements to move the animals.
Volunteers have evacuated animals at Level 2, but it gets tricky when dealing with emergency responders and coordinators. Sometimes roads get shut down to residents only.
She said they can not go into an area during a Level 3 evacuation.
“These volunteers are brave people,” Bacon said. “It’s pitch black outside, the power’s out, you’re driving through the smoke looking for an address you’ve never been to before rescuing animals who don’t know you and are afraid, and many times the owners aren’t there. It can be chaotic.”
“Smoke in the air does amazing things to animals,” Bacon said. “It puts the fear in them.”
She recounted the “night of the great goat herd” last year near Prospect.
She said a woman called in but needed a lot of convincing to move her 20 goats as the fire was headed her way. She wasn’t convinced until night fell and the fire was nearly upon her. Fortunately, Bacon had volunteers on standby.
What the woman didn’t tell Bacon was that she actually had 40 goats, 14 barn cats and a couple of llamas. It took volunteers a couple of hours to round up all the animals.
“Without volunteers, we wouldn’t be here,” Bacon said.
She once had to gather a group of strong men to round up six 300-pound pigs that had never interacted with people. The owners just fed the pigs and left them alone because they were to be butchered.
She said it took volunteers 2 1/2 hours to get them into a horse trailer.
“If you’re trying to herd a 300-pound pig who doesn’t want to go where you want them to go, it can be a bit of a challenge,” Bacon said. “We’ve been very fortunate; we haven’t had a single volunteer go out and not come back without the animals.”
She emphasized that volunteers never go out alone, but in groups.
Volunteers supply their own vehicles and trailers because many animal owners never expect to take the animal off the property and don’t own trailers.
She said the biggest benefit to earning the nonprofit status is that all volunteers are now insured.
“These volunteers are selfless, they are the best people in the world,” she said.
Mary Anne Morrison of Wilderville has offered up her 42-acre horse farm, Aranaway, to those in need for the last four years.
Morrison has been a horse trainer nearly her entire life. She grew up in Grants Pass on a farm, and her family always took in any animals in need.
“I think it’s extremely important that I open my arms and share it with people,” Morrison said. I’ve spent my life around horses and training, and it’s my calling.”
Her property has stables, corrals and open pastures, perfect for holding animals. She even took in a 25-year-old emu named Onnes last year.
Morrison is now the trainer coordinator for SOEA. She has hosted two public training workshops this year at her farm — one on safely loading horses and transporting them during wildfires, and one on handling livestock, with a portion covering exotic pets. More trainings are in the works for this year.
Morrison, 62, cares for the animals that come to her farm. She said it really helps for the owners to provide their own feed and come help out when they can, but she understands that an evacuation can be a very stressful time.
Kathleen Patton of Grants Pass had SOEA evacuate her two horses from a boarding facility to Aranaway Farm last year during the Taylor Creek fire.
She lived on the property and helped Morrison care for the animals.
The two struck up a friendship, and now both volunteer with SOEA. One of Patton’s horses now lives at the farm while she and Morrison delve into the world of mounted archery. Patton’s second horse will soon join them on the farm.
“It was such a relief,” Patton said. “There was nowhere that I could put them I didn’t have anywhere to go.”
Although Patton has lived in Southern Oregon for about 20 years, she said she’d never experienced a wildfire evacuation before. The two said they’re very grateful to have met each other through the organization.
“Out of the fire came a wonderful friendship,” Morrison said.
Bacon said there were so many fires last year that she can’t recount how many animals they evacuated.
“If there was a fire in Southern Oregon or Northern California, we had people there,” Bacon said. “Last year was the first year I didn’t know every fire and what they were called because there was so many after that lightening hit.”
She said now that they’re a nonprofit, they have access to software that can track how many evacuations and animals they handle.
“If you want to count every chicken, we’d be way up there,” she said. “We moved 80 chickens in two moves last year. I had one guy put three peacocks in the back of his car. We do whatever we can do.”
This region is rich in farming communities, and often livestock can be some families’ main source of income.
“It can be people’s livelihood,” Bacon said. “If we were to lose a large part of our agricultural animals, the economy would suffer around here. From a mom-and-pop farm that raises a steer and a pig every year to feed their family to a large-scale dairy farm, it’s a big impact on people, financially and emotionally.”
SOEA also accepts donations in the form of cash, gas cards, hay, grain, dog and cat food, bedding, leads, food and water dishes, animal first-aid supplies and anything folks can use for their animals after a fire.
Last year SOEA sent supplies to Chico, California, where evacuated animals were lodged after the Camp fire, as well as to victims who lost tack supplies and hay in Hornbrook, California, and Hugo.
For more information, call 541-226-1124, email firstname.lastname@example.org or see the Facebook page at https://bit.ly/2XfWRhX.
Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at email@example.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.