On Rescuing Animals

Helping pets is a part of the rescue tradition, as we all know from the story of the firefighters climbing a tree to retrieve a cat. Although this image is a bit of a joke, it illustrates two things: the first is the public’s love of it’s companion animals and the second is the expectation that rescuers should be available to help.

North Shore Rescue was recently in the news for rescuing a Bernese Mountain Dog. The 18 month old dog was missing for 15 days when it was found in Mosquito Creek canyon, and was pulled out using long line rescue. This story was of obvious human interest, and got more coverage than most SAR rescues because of the fact that the subject was a young dog (in fact most papers referred to him as a “puppy” although he is full grown).

Now some people might think that it’s not rational for someone to risk their life for an animal, since however safe we try to be, SAR has an element of risk, and long-lining is a high-consequence rescue technique. However, emergency responders all over the world have learned through harsh experience that people love their pets and will risk their own lives to save them, just as they would for a human member of their family.

During Hurricane Katrina, many thousands of pets were forcibly abandoned because of evacuation policies and plans in place that excluded animals. Consequently, many people stayed behind rather than be separated from their companions – people who were subsequently put in peril and either died or required rescuing. In the aftermath of the hurricane, approximately 8000 animals were rescued. The plight of the animals garnered national attention when the story of Snowball the dog came out.

Because of the scale of the disaster, the media attention, and the estimated 600,000 pets (not including zoo and other domestic animals) that either died or were left without shelter, the US introduced specific legislation regarding pet evacuation which allocates resources through FEMA specifically for evacuating pets and service animals in an emergency. Emergency agencies elsewhere in the world took note.

In British Columbia, the Provincial Emergency Program provides three types of coverage to SAR volunteers when we are searching for or rescuing people; WCB (workers compensation board) coverage in case of injury, liability coverage in case of lawsuits, and gear

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replacement coverage in the case we damage or lose equipment in the course of the rescue. The result is that if a rescuer is injured, there’s full support for treatment and recovery. This mitigates some of the risk of rescue, and is in place for all SAR activities.

PEP has an explicit policy that allows for the rescue of a domestic animal for the humane or public safety reasons. The RCMP or police agency or jurisdiction are he only tasking agency that can activate this form of rescue. PEP provides WCB and liability coverage for such rescues, but not gear replacement.

In the years I’ve been part of SAR my team has rescued people with dogs many times (almost one a year), but never a dog by itself. In one memorable case the dog was injured and required stretcher evacuation. What made this especially hard was that the dog in question, “Gus”, was over 120 pounds and quite irascible. He took over eight hours to carry, requiring a lot of imagination and some rope work. We have also long-lined out animals more than once.

What I’ve noticed this this; if we rescue a person with a dog, they are much more grateful than the average subject. The evidence? They tend to donate (which most subjects don’t), and they donate higher amounts than any other subjects we rescue.

People really, really love their animals.

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One comment on “On Rescuing Animals
  1. Rob Braun says:

    Our team has been involved in two such occasions that I recollect, where if someone didn’t do something, the pet owners, or bystanders would or already tried. Based on the risk to public safety, an operation can and is initiated, and carried out safely. My experience is the responders apply the same professionalism, skill, knowledge and effort to these circumstances knowing full well, they are bringing home a member of the family.

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