Terry McLaughlin: The Red Cross for animals | TheUnion.com
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Terry McLaughlin: The Red Cross for animals

The phone was ringing loudly at 2 a.m. one Monday in 2017. Awakened from her sleep, Joni Taylor answered to find an anxious neighbor looking for a trailer to help evacuate seven horses from her home in Rough and Ready. While listening to her neighbor’s plea, Taylor could smell smoke.

“Within minutes,” wrote reporter Matthew Pera in The Union on Oct. 9, 2017, “Taylor ushered her cat and two dogs into her car, opened the gates on her property so her chickens and peacocks could run or fly free, and drove to the Nevada County Fairgrounds to volunteer with the Nevada County Veterinary Disaster Response Team.”

More commonly known as Nevada County Animal Evacuation, the Nevada County Veterinary Disaster Response Team is a group of trained volunteers who came together during the 49er Fire in 1988. They mobilize during fires and other disasters in Nevada County to help residents with the evacuation and care of pets and livestock.



While enjoying the beauty and serenity of our surroundings, all of us in Nevada County live with the constant threat of fire or other disaster. Being well-prepared is the key to making sure everyone, including our animals, remains safe.

When a situation warrants evacuations, Animal Control activates the Nevada County Veterinary Disaster Response Team, an all-volunteer organization led by Pat Ehlers, a registered veterinary technician. Pat has led the group for many years, educating and training volunteers.




Once mobilized, she and her team set up a large and small animal center, where evacuated animals are housed, fed and receive medical attention if necessary. During the 2017 fires, this group cared for more than 350 animals, including llamas, dogs, cats, birds, reptiles and more than 100 horses at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

“Basically, we are the Red Cross for animals,” explains Pat. “If you have to evacuate, bring animals to us and we’re happy to take care of them until it’s safe to go home. It’s no cost to the owner to have the little ones with us.”

“Once we get mobilized,” she says, “we go to a location that will be safe for the animals. With luck, we get the Fairgrounds.”

The Nevada County Fairgrounds is her No. 1 pick due to its abundant supply of water, light, shade and stalls. “We open it up, we receive the animals, we decide where to put the animal depending upon its size and type, and we feed them and give them water. Dogs get walked four times a day, and all the animals get attention. We had a pig during the Lowell Fire, and he got plenty of attention.”

The volunteer response team keeps meticulous records of animals and their owners, ensuring that no mix-ups occur and every animal is accounted for. Upon check-in, owners are required to complete a form listing comprehensive contact and animal background information. A photograph is taken of the owner with their animal to ensure that each animal returns to the proper home.

Volunteers, many with veterinary expertise, are on-site throughout the duration of the evacuation period, monitoring, feeding, and caring for the animals. Security for animals, owners, and volunteers is taken very seriously.

The group also offers detailed emergency preparation tips for animal owners, including to have an evacuation box or bag ready to go with essential items for humans and animals. This box or bag should be stored in a convenient space, such as the trunk of your car or a closet close to an exit point in your home. It should contain a change of clothes, toiletries, copies of important papers including insurance, as well as car and house information. For humans and animals a one- to two-week supply of required medication is essential.

During an active emergency, if you live within an evacuation zone and need assistance with animal evacuation, you should call sheriff’s dispatch at 530-265-7880.

If you would like to help our community during a disaster, one of the best ways you can do that is to volunteer with an organization such as the Nevada County Veterinary Disaster Response Team. Whether you are a trained veterinary professional or just love animals, there are many ways and opportunities for you to help, including animal transport, evacuation assistance, security, intake, first aid, and so much more.

Class schedules for volunteer training are announced via email and on Nevada County Veterinary Disaster Response Team’s Facebook page, and volunteer applications are available through Pat Ehlers at 530-477-6506 or rn4animals@aol.com.

The Nevada County Veterinary Disaster Response Team is a non-profit, 501c3 organization, which in 2018 was proud to accept the Nevada County Fair Board of Directors’ Blue Ribbon Award. This award was created by the Western Fairs Association, a nonprofit trade association, to recognize those who support and contribute to the quality of their local fair.

Donations are always welcomed and all donations are tax deductible. For more information contact nevcoanimalevac@gmail.com, or Pat Ehlers at the numbers listed above.

Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at terrymclaughlin2016@gmail.com.


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