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Pet preparedness

Katrina Paz
Special to The Union
Tasha Pluim, pictured here with Pearl, a Portuguese Water Dog, took in 17 dogs during the Dog Bar fire last weekend at her River Dogs pet grooming business in Grass Valley.
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

As many in Nevada County have experienced in recent weeks, fires can put people in a grab-and-go situation. While our pets may be at the top of our “essentials” list, where they go from there may cause a glitch.

Dogs, cats, livestock, birds, and even guinea pigs are simply not allowed at most emergency shelters, hotels, or even the homes of friends offering refuge. But thanks to local emergency services, volunteers, and compassionate businesses, there was no shortage of shelters for those recently evacuated from homes.

Last week’s Dog Bar fire had South County residents on edge and ready to run, and businesses like River Dogs and Maple Leaf Stables were ready to help.

“I’ve been evacuated a few times for fires, and I know how stressful it is,” Tasha Pluim, owner of River Dogs, a pet grooming salon, said.

It was the first time she’d opened her doors for such a situation. Initially it was for her clients, but she ended up taking in 17 animals Saturday, many from people she’d never met. “I thought I’d get a couple, but I was excited I was able to help everybody.”

Pluim stayed on site throughout the night with the animals, which were all picked up by Sunday afternoon. A handful of people offered her money, but she refused, emphasizing that it wasn’t about the money. It was about safety.

Cathi Mayo, owner of Maple Leaf Stables, is ready to take in animals at a moment’s notice in emergency situations.

“You can just show up,” Mayo said. “You don’t even need to call.”

While the stables are primarily suited for livestock, they can take most any type of pet. Their only request is if they’re going to be staying a while, that owners try to provide the appropriate feed.

“We’ve been doing this a long time, we’re more than happy to help out in any situation,” she said.

The county, through its office of emergency services (OES), also takes part in securing the safety of pets. The OES manages the Nevada County Emergency Operations Center, and while its responsibilities are extensive, varied, and vital, its plan includes coordinating evacuation centers for both people and animals.

When a disaster warrants evacuations, OES activates the Nevada County Veterinary Disaster Response Team, a private volunteer organization let by Pat Ehlers. During the Dog Bar fire, the group, upon OES’s go-ahead, began taking in pets at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. This was the first time the group was activated this year.

When Ehlers gets a call to go mobile, her team goes to the safest area possible. The fairgrounds is her number one pick due to its abundant supply of water, light, shade, and stalls.

Upon check-in, pet owners are required to complete a form consisting of comprehensive contact information and pet background. They then take a picture of the owner and pet to ensure that each animal goes home with its owner.

Volunteers are on-site throughout the duration of the makeshift shelter operation, and security is taken very seriously. The organization is comprised of a variety of people and professionals with specialties and backgrounds with specific animals. Ehlers is a registered veterinary technician.

“We have people who work with rabbits, llamas, pigs, horses, everything,” Ehlers said. “Some people are just huge animal lovers.”

Anyone can be a volunteer with the veterinary disaster response team, however all volunteers are required to take a class. “We’re always looking for volunteers, anyone is welcome to join.”

Ehlers stresses that the most important part of an evacuation is being prepared, and she herself keeps food, medications, and necessities in her truck.

Pluim suggests bringing the food your pet is accustomed to eating, along with a blanket or personal item, so they feel safe. Sammie’s Friends, which served as a resource for OES disaster plans, published guidelines for evacuating with animals last summer.

“We want to make this as widely available as possible,” co-founder Curt Romander, said. “It’s always a scary situation and it’s best to be prepared.”

The suggested list for cats and dogs included a carrier or crate, food, bowl for food and water, at least three days of medication, leashes, harnesses, litter boxes, blanket, a current photo of the pet, vet information, and information about any medical conditions.

For more information about volunteering with the Nevada County Veterinary Disaster Response Team, call 530-477-6506.

Katrina Paz is a freelance writer in Grass Valley.

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