A provincial state of emergency was declared in Alberta on May 6th, 2023 due to numerous out-of-control wildfires.
This state of emergency extended throughout the summer as fires raged across the province. These fires affected communities throughout Alberta in some cases requiring mandatory evacuation of entire communities on short notice.
Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation
Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation evacuated on May 5th, and pets were assisted by the local agricultural society in Valleyview until Valleyview itself was under mandatory evacuation. On May 15th, officials of Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation requested formal assistance from our team in evacuating pets from Valleyview and caring for them until they could go home.
Approximately 140 animals were evacuated from Valleyview, and throughout the following days that total would increase to 158 pets. We were extremely happy to return most of the animals from Sturgeon Lake within a few weeks, once it was deemed safe for families to go back home. Coordinating with the Nation, we established a meeting point where owners could reunite with their pets, and we provided additional food and supplies for them.
Little Red River Cree Nation
While continuing care of the Sturgeon Lake animals, we were also called to assist with a large number of animals in the community of Little Red River Cree Nation (Fox Lake) after fire had ravaged the community weeks prior and continued to burn for months after we left.
On Saturday, May 20, 2023 we deployed to Fox Lake. The fire was still active and with a large number of free-roaming animals, we agreed that we would prioritize vulnerable animals including puppies, the sick and the injured. In total, we rescued 150 animals. The following day, one rescued dog gave birth to 11 puppies, bringing that number to 161.
Sadly, two animals were euthanized on-site due to extreme suffering and 35 additional animals tested positive for parvovirus in the following weeks. Unfortunately, hundreds more dogs were left behind and first responders would continue to feed-in-place. We also had several animals requiring extensive medical care for wounds and broken bones.
We transported the animals to Edmonton and they were eventually dispersed into care facilities. The response to the Little Red River Cree Nation was significantly more demanding, involving extensive fieldwork and animal care, with numerous hours dedicated to verifying owners and providing updates to both owners and the nation, as well as organizing long-term care.
During the animals’ stay in our care, we offered free spay and neuter services. The majority of owners took advantage of this offer, which also included vaccines, deworming and microchipping to assist the community in reducing pet overpopulation. When returning these animals home, we ensured they had an ample supply of food and other necessary provisions.
Despite the many challenges, we successfully returned the claimed pets after nearly four months in care. The reunions were deeply moving, bringing immense joy to owners who were relieved to have their pets safe as they returned to rebuild their community.
The effectiveness of these responses can be attributed to the remarkable collaboration between the Canadian Animal Task Force and AARCS. Whether it’s our leadership teams or the individuals working on the front lines, the synergy between our two organizations is evident. Each of us have our own unique strengths, which we have developed into an animal disaster response program that works. With extensive connections in the animal welfare industry and government bodies, we are often among the first organizations contacted to provide assistance in the event of a disaster.