Amanda Dengler was forced to leave her home three times over the last 18 months in Canada’s Northwest Territories, but her cats refused to follow her.
Dengler was forced to stay away from his home for longer than he had planned. He joined other residents in contacting volunteer networks to rescue animals from communities that are being threatened by Canada’s record-breaking wildfire season.
Dengler told us that she caught her three cats when she left Hay River, her town home on August 13 due to a wildfire nearby.
She said, “I think that they picked up my fear. It kind of drove their fears a little and they weren’t cooperative.”
She took two dogs, her clothes, and electronics. She left a bag of dry cat food and a tub filled with water on the floor, as she thought she would be away for a couple days. When it was longer than a few days, she sought help.
She saw the message from Dr. Michelle Tuma on Facebook, a veterinarian and member of Veterinarians Without Borders in Yellowknife, the capital of Northwest Territories. Tuma spent the last month helping families to flee with and their pets or reunite with them, as well as keeping tabs on any animals that were left behind.
Tuma: “It is hard, because we do not know how long it will last.”
Her first involvement involved helping the residents of Behchoko (a small town about 60 miles north of Yellowknife) evacuate to Yellowknife on July 24, due to wildfire.
Tuma reported that many people who traveled by bus or plane were unable to bring their pets along with them. They had to leave these animals behind.
She said, “We had an amazing team of people who went to the community and helped rescue a bunch animals from the community with the consent of their owners. They then brought them to Yellowknife.”
The city was able to save more than 100 animals, who were then placed in boarding facilities or shelters. Or they could be fostered by more than 80 families.
The following weeks saw more evacuations and more pets helping. On Aug. 16, Yellowknife was ordered to evacuate. Over the course of a few days, 20,000 out of 23,000 residents in Yellowknife left.
Tuma decided to stay, as a vital worker.
She said, “I have been working on wildfires in other communities for the past month, so it was a no brainer for me to come back and help my community, give back to my hometown and this amazing city.”
Tuma, along with other volunteers, worked closely with the staff from around Canada of Veterinarians Without Borders. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and local officials to help save, transport, and care for animals as firefighters battled to keep the fires out.
They have brought food and drink to pets at home, answered calls from pet owners who were worried, and helped to arrange the delivery of animal transport crates in remote areas.
Charly Jarrett is the director of communications at Veterinarians Without Borders. She said that initially, pets were not allowed on flights unless they were in carriers. The city sold out immediately.
In the end, both military and commercial flights allowed evacuated people to bring their pets on board without a crate.
Tuma has been busy, sometimes with the assistance of a locksmith, rescuing animals from their homes. One of these was a scared cat who was hiding behind an washing machine. Tuma then gave her a few bites. She helped staff at the local vet clinic to pack up a snake that was angry for transport. The snake was hissing, spitting and lunging as its rescuers tried to remove it.
Tuma has also treated sick animals and prescribed sedatives to anxious animals who needed to be moved. It also helped track the 70-80 animals that are still in Yellowknife.
Maggie McGuane, the daughter of late Canadian actress Margot Kidder (who was best known as Lois Lane from the Superman films), contacted Veterinarians Without Borders in order to offer assistance. McGuane works with Wings of Rescue in California, which transports pets at risk from disaster zones and overcrowded shelters.
A husband-and-wife team of volunteer Wings of Rescue pilots flew 17 animals including two snakes on Aug. 20. The flight cost was partially covered by a donation of $10,000 from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, based in the United States. This donation came through the Vodka for Dog People Charity.
Dengler had two cats that needed to be picked-up in Hay River, a five hour drive from Yellowknife. They were also on the flight. Stitch, her 7-year old indoor/outdoor cat, was still on the loose but was recently found by a neighbour.
Dengler is staying with her friends in Calgary and said that it was a relief knowing at least four of her pets were safe.
“I believe people are seeking comfort right now, don’t you think? She said, “You leave behind your entire life and… for some people, pets can be like family.” “Even if my house was lost, I would still be able to live with my animals. Even if all my possessions were lost, my animals would still be alive. “Everything else is replaceable.”