Tracy Oliver with ALERT takes stock of the chickens and peacocks being held at the Desert Park facility. Dale Boyd/Osoyoos Times
By Dale Boyd
The evacuation of animals from the wildfire area in South Okanagan has drawn interest from organizations across the province, with one director calling it the most successful operation in recent memory.
Horses, a duck, a couple peacocks, goats and more are safely returning to their homes on Aug. 14 after property owners took the extra precaution contacting volunteer teams to evacuate them when evacuation alerts were sent out by the regional district for the McKinney Road area.
Deborah McBride, director of operations for ALERT (Animal Lifeline and Emergency Response Team) in the South and Central Okanagan has been working with the organization, under different names over time, since 1994. The evacuation of animals from properties near the fire, as well from the Animal Legacy Foundation in Oliver, to Osoyoos’ Desert Park Equine Facility was the best she can remember.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years I’ve never seen anything like it. The co-operation, the welcome, the facility is unbelievable,” McBride said.
• Read more: Animals evacuated from fire housed in Osoyoos
The partnership between the Animal Legacy Foundation, a registered charity, Desert Park and ALERT, along with property owners reaching out, led to the success.
“Other people are really taking notice and they’re starting to step up,” McBride said. “This is the first time I’ve seen that really sincere teamwork and people taking it seriously.”
Education and preparedness on the part of animal owners and caretakers is key, without that cooperation volunteer teams like ALERT could not co-ordinate to get animals safely to the Desert Park facility.
”It’s not an easy decision to make because it’s only an evacuation alert, but the education we want to get out is that if the property owners don’t have the resources to take all their animals in one trip. When evacuation order comes down what happens to those animals?” McBride said.
That is when animal owners should reach out to ALERT, whose volunteers assist in transportation or maintenance needed for animals left on property during an evacuation, trapping for any missing animals and much more.
“This is the first time in the province I think it actually worked. The people on McKinney Road they really did it right. It’s a really difficult decision for all those people. The jail took out their horses, they trailered some,” McBride said. “Everybody took it really seriously.”
• Read more: Desert Park chosen as regional evacuation centre
However, while ALERT members will evacuate animals when they can, McBride stressed it is important for people to know: if you are going to care for animals in a wildfire-prone area, you need a plan to evacuate.
“Start your emergency plans. People are putting their head in the sand so they don’t have to think about it because it gets so complicated. You’ve never had such a good opportunity with desert park and ALERT working together,” McBride said.
At a meeting on Aug. 12 the Desert Park board voted to give permission for improvements to some areas shared by ALERT in emergency situations. While ALERT is applying for registered charity status, there is still a large need for volunteers of all types, including handyman-type projects at Desert Park.
“It’s such a unique place (Desert Park) and these people need some help from the community,” McBride said.
Also, McBride said to keep an eye out for fundraising activities, or think about making a donation in the future to assist in ALERT efforts.
To find out more or volunteer, contact ALERT at 250-809-7152 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.