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West Slope fires test owners of livestock, pets

Dennis Webb
The Daily Sentinel
Susan Carter, Horticulture and Natural Resource Agent for Colorado State University Extension, on Friday. The CSU Extension is heading evacuations and placements for animals as a part of the Mesa County Emergency Plan.
MCKENZIE LANGE / The Daily Sentinel

Faced with the need to evacuate cattle from leased acreage near Douglas Pass due to the threat of the Pine Gulch Fire overrunning them, Justin Vaughn also was confronted with a dilemma.

Where was he supposed to take them?

Fortunately, Vaughn ended up getting answers this week after putting out a request for help on social media, and was able to move 35 cow-calf pairs. He ended up with enough offers that one task he faced Friday was reaching out to everyone who stepped up to help.

“I’ve got probably 15 people I’ve still got to call back and tell them thanks for offering,” Vaughn said.

Area wildfires have been testing residents in lots of ways recently, sending unhealthy levels of smoke into the air, closing highways and in some cases even forcing people to evacuate or prepare for the possibility of evacuating. In the case of those responsible for animals, from livestock to pets, those caretaking duties can create an additional challenge.

Tera Fawkes, a vet tech at Dr. Gary’s Animal Clinic in Grand Junction, said this week has been a busy one there due to people bringing in dogs and other animals suffering from the combination of smoke and hot temperatures.

“A lot of animals are being affected right now. It’s pretty bad,” she said.

She said the clinic is seeing a lot of cases involving dogs getting seizures, including ones that never have had seizures before. Fawkes said certain dog breeds such as bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers are having an especially hard time right now. She said her own dog doesn’t like coming inside but she had to bring him in due to his coughing and red eyes.

On Facebook, the clinic urged people to keep their pets inside to the degree possible, and to call if they need help boarding their pets due to wildfire. Fawkes said the local company Ruff Around the Edges, which provides pet services including boarding, has been great at helping take in animals as necessary, and lots of people are opening their properties to help with animals such as livestock if needed.

Bailey Knight, who owns Knight Ranch in Grand Junction, is one of those who stepped up to offer help to animal owners. She ended up creating a Facebook group, Western Colorado Wildfires Livestock Evacuation, and has been amazed by the level of response from people willing to assist animal owners.

“People are just offering up so much. People are being so generous, offering up land and help hauling with trailers, offering space to park equipment, trailers and campers, anything and everything,” she said. “… We’ve got a really generous community here.”

She said she offered to take in Vaughn’s cattle, but he ultimately found another place to take them. Knight also had been in contact with people in the Glenwood Springs area who were going to bring her several horses, but that ended up not being necessary after a pre-evacuation notice was lifted. The Grizzly Creek Fire has burned tens of thousands of acres near Glenwood Springs.

Dan’s Towing in Grand Junction is among those who have volunteered help to those affected by fire. It has flatbed trailers that can be used to haul vehicles that aren’t running, as well as campers, boats and trailers, and the relatives of one of its employees has a stock trailer available for use. The company is offering the help for free.

Kim Hobscheidt, who owns Dan’s Towing with her husband, Jay, said the company hasn’t yet gotten any calls to assist, but she remains ready to help if anyone asks due to future fire activity.

“They’re all my neighbors, so I’m just doing what I can with what I have to be able to help people if they need it,” she said.

For those needing help with relocating and feeding their animals as a result of wildfires locally, a good first place to call is Colorado State University Extension, at 244-1835. It’s officially working under Mesa County’s emergency plan to help with evacuation and sheltering of animals.

Susan Carter with the local Extension office said it can help with tracking animals being evacuated and where they are going, whereas if they go to an unknown entity “things can happen.” She said that according to the state veterinarian, sometimes animals can go missing in such situations. The office keeps a running list of people who can haul and house animals, such as people involved with 4-H and experienced with animals.

“The Extension office is a great resource and if people can go through them that would be good,” Knight said.

But she said things can happen in an emergency, and if the office can’t immediately be reached someone else might be able to help in the short term. She recommends that an animal owner and the person taking in animals put something in writing covering things such as the dates of service and descriptions of animals, and also including language releasing the boarding facility from liability should an animal be injured or die.

CSU Extension also is taking donations of hay and can distribute it for free to people who need it due to evacuations. People wanting to donate hay should contact Carter at 244-1850, or susan.carter@colostate.edu. She encourages evacuees to contact her office to take advantage of the offer for free feed.

The Extension office is collaborating with the Grand Rivers Humane Society when it comes to collecting monetary donations for livestock feed and pet food. Donations may be made by visiting that group’s Facebook page.

Carter said CSU Extension has two CART (Community Animal Response Team) trailers, one with a panel to help corral cattle, and another with pens for small animals such as dog and cats.

Carter said a man needing help with livestock on leased land called Friday and the office connected him with people able to help.

“We’d like to see more people contacting us for sure,” especially if they need animal feed, she said.

She said she’s heard of one instance of five cattle being missing in connection with the Pine Gulch Fire. Vaughn said he couldn’t find one of his cow/calf pairs and hoped to get back up to look for them.

Before evacuating his own cattle, he helped another rancher haul 150 head of cattle due to concern they would be lost if the fire reached them. He said while firefighters are trying their hardest where the fire is approaching Douglas Pass, it’s rough country up there.

“They can’t get in there to do a whole lot,” he said.

This story was originally published at gjsentinel.com.


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