Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pets are Family Too

by Maggie Buckenmayer and Bob Wallace/American Red Cross
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, December 9, 2016

Chuck Jenkins enjoys quiet time
at Rocky Top Shelter with his dogs,
Cocoa and Oscar.
 Photo by Maggie Buckenmayer
 for American Red Cross
“I told the police I wouldn’t leave unless I could take my dogs,” said Red Cross shelter resident Chuck Jenkins. He made this declaration when police officers urged him to evacuate as deadly wildfires bore down on and eventually destroyed his Maples Forge community and over 2000 additional structures in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It’s a declaration that disaster responders have heard many times. Pets become cherished members of families, and all too often people refuse to evacuate incredibly dangerous situations unless their pets go too. It’s a decision that can lead to tragic consequences.

Melissa Loveday, another Maples Forge resident and the first to be evacuated, made sure police officers knew about other members of this community who needed help. With flames rapidly surrounding them, police officers found themselves assuring multiple families that they would be allowed to bring out and stay with their pets. As a result, Chuck escaped with his dogs Cocoa and Oscar. Melissa got out with her dog Peanut along with numerous other residents, some of whom where accompanied with the four-legged members of their family.

Once at the shelter location, the Red Cross, the American Humane Rescue, and other partner agencies created a plan where the evacuees with pets could stay in an area separated from other shelter residents. Their dogs and cats were placed in crates where they lived next to the beds of their people. Melissa and Chuck were thrilled to be with their pets. They were also pleased that their pet-less friends from their community, Olga Alvarez, Bobby Jo Jarrett and her husband made the decision to reside in that same shelter area with them, creating a tight-knit shelter community of friends and pets. At one point, the pets-allowed side of the shelter included 60 dogs, 9 cats, and 1 lizard.

”We will never be able to thank the Red Cross enough for giving us shelter and letting us remain together with our dogs next to our beds,” said Melissa.

Together in the shelter, their five cots and three dog crates laid out side by side, this group of survivors continued to support each other throughout their stay.

Melissa Loveday, evacuee from
Maples Forge, takes a moment to
cuddle her dog, Peanut.
Photo by Maggie Buckenmayer
for American Red Cross
“Where else could we go and have our dogs with us.  My dogs and my friends are my life. Thank you Red Cross,” said Chuck.

“The Red Cross and other animal partners created a unique living situation for the evacuees in the Red Cross shelter located at Rocky Top Sports Center. We were excited to see the success of this shelter, which allowed the evacuees an easier shelter stay and also added purpose for them in caring for their pets,” said Jeff Eyre, from American Humane Rescue.

The best way to ensure the safety of your entire family is to be prepared with a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan includes your pets. Make sure you have a “Go Kit” that contains critical papers, including the papers showing that your pets have been vaccinated and treatments for any critical ailments. Being prepared can help save lives. Please visit redcross.org for Pet Safety or download the Red Cross Pet First Aid App for your android or iPhone devices.

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