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Mid-Winter Safety for Our Animal Companions

For animal owners and caregivers, amid storm chaos and their aftermath, it can be a real challenge to keep our animals comfortable, or, safe. Planning for all kinds of emergencies is a key part of preparedness.

What might be Plan A for wildfire might work for storms, too. Or not!
Many of our region’s “Go-To” fire evacuation locations are smack in the middle of our flood-prone areas. So, you need a plan for extreme wet weather.

In many situations, including after an earthquake, your Shelter-in-Place plan is your only option. And, in many cases, having a plan to keep animals high, dry, and safe at home during wet, stormy weather is going to be the healthiest and least stressful for them. This is particularly true for your backyard farm animals and poultry, and barn and community cats. Keeping animals out of crowded emergency shelters is always the best Plan A.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been said before. Unlike breaking news, disaster safety is a fact of our everyday lives, or should be. Nature has a way of reminding us WHY it’s so important to refresh, update, practice, and reach out to neighbors, all the time, to be ready in a flash.


The “after” of extended and heavy rainy weather can be dramatic, and many dangers are obvious. Leaning trees, falling branches, weakened structures and damaged roofs are visible (and keep coming down long after the rain has stopped).

But there are some hazards that aren’t so immediately obvious, and can quickly turn a day outdoors into a major animal emergency. Knowing what to look out for, what to do if an animal is in distress, and how to get the right help can be life-saving knowledge to have.

Mud and puddles can be lethal to animals. Let’s start small, with dogs and cats living in places that are currently or were recently under water. Potential hazards are everywhere! Pets lapping puddle or pond water, playing in the grass, or licking muddy fur may be exposed to, or ingesting, nasty toxins.

Before letting pets loose in a flood-affected area, check for:

·      Water that’s milky, has a green, red, or yellow tinge, or an “oil slick” appearance.

·      Sharp debris such as glass, wire, metal, boards or posts with nails or screws.

·      Bottles, cans, and boxes that might be leaking(household cleaning, laundry, medicine, and garden products) can all be carried far from their original homes and left in your pet’s play area. 

·      “Chewable”, stuff that might look like harmless toys but can quickly get stuck in dog or cat (or goat) guts.

A 10-minute reconnaissance walk to preview anyplace your pets might walk, swim, roll or play can prevent a lot of pain, heartache, and vet bills later.

Keep pet-safe products on hand for household cleanup and pet hygiene – unscented baby wipes are great). After outdoor time, clean your pets before they start todo it themselves. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to keep Valentine candy out of their reach!

Now, let’s talk about the big guys: Equines, cattle, pigs, goats, and large dogs. For many animals who were either evacuated or able to move away from the water, there can still be some big hazards in their environments for weeks to come. Mud is a biggie— dense mud and quicksand, submerged holes, and eroded hillsides are also serious, and frequently hidden dangers.

Many large animals suffer from lengthy entrapment in mud, old wells and septic tanks, or in ravines, and often endure serious injury as a result of improper“rescue”.

Again, a cautious-but thorough- tour of your barnyard or pastures can prevent trauma.


·      Down fences, wires, big trees &branches 

·      Sections of metal roofing that may have blown far from buildings

·      Bubbling mud or water (signs of gas from sewer, septic tank, etc)

·      Propane tanks left behind by swift water 

·      Puddles, pastures, and pens that are starting to dry and have a thin surface crust, hiding deep, sticky mud beneath.

·      Slippery slopes where animals may slip and find themselves unable to get up.

Similarly, equestrians enjoying the glorious weather and early spring scenery may not be alert to hazards along trails, in the hills and onbeaches. Heading into this spring, equine mud, down animal, and “over the edge”rescues are likely to become frequent.

Fortunately, the North Bay now has tremendous, trained resources to help get big animals out of precarious situations. But— you need to know how to requestthe right help, and what you can do while waiting for responders to arrive. Read on!


Sonoma and Marin counties have outstanding responders (and a growing number of veterinarians) who are trained in the specialized techniques for safe, humanerescue of equines, livestock, and even exotic animals.

Situations that usually require a coordinated, skilled technical 
rescue response include:

·    Animal stuck in mud

·    Animal fallen over a cliff 

·    Trail-riding accident.

·    Animal stuck in a well, septic tank, culvert, or other confined space.

·    Transportation accident on public or private roadways, involving trapped, injured, and/or loose animals.  

Each of these can be life-threatening to the animals as well as humans and require swift and expert response. They’reall complex incidents, and most often requires a fully integrated team of responder specialists who know how to manage the incident and all the differenttypes of resource, extricate the animal(s), rescue any humans involved, and keep everyone safe.

Depending on the situation, these might include:

·      Fire Service or Sheriff SAR Animal TechnicalRescue (ATR) team

·      Veterinarian 

·      CHP, Sheriff, or other law enforcement-traffic control

·      Animal transport, containment and /or handling resources.

ATR responders are trained in equine anatomy and behavior, and the use of standard, readily available rescue equipment, as well as some commercially manufactured devices.

Our local ATR teams in Sonoma and Marin all have specialized backboards, skeds, straps, and animal protective gear that’s made specifically for use with large animals. Additionally, they train and refresh periodically to maintain their skills and are qualified to command these types of incidents if needed.

There are other, less complicated types of animal extrications that most equine owners can learn to handle on their own, or with help from the local fireservice ATR resources. Everyday predicaments that many elderly, lame, or just plain stuck animals get into include:

·  “Cast” in a stall

·  Stuck in a fence

·  Slid or rolled downhill 

·  Need standing support for veterinary or farrier work;

As many animal owners and facility managers know, these mishaps occur often. Learning how to handle them without a full ATR team can be stress-reducing, life-saving, and empowering. For these situations, it can really pay off to invest in some simple equipment that works for most typical situations. HALTER Project can help you purchase equipment and learn how to perform many basic maneuvers to help animals out of common situations.

If you need more muscle, a local fire department can call on the ATR specialists for guidance or an assist. For ALL types of emergency rescue involving big animals, knowing how to call for help is key to the best possible outcome.

Here’s what you need to know:

·      Disasters are handled differently from“everyday”, individual emergencies.

·      In a disaster, all companion animal assistance is handled by County Animal Services, by calling the appropriate hotline. (Seethe Resource box).

·      For individual emergencies, 911 dispatchers route the request to the nearest specialist team resource. Do NOT call a local fire station- this will only slow down the process.

We’ve provided some great “cheat sheets” you can print and keep in your barn, glove box and AnimalEmergency Plan. But here’s the critical“how-to “checklist for requesting help.


·      Calm yourself and everyone involved and keep the area quiet.

·      Keep an animal buddy nearby if safely possible

·     Call911, request LARGE ANIMAL RESCUE

Be ready to state the situation clearly, calmly, and accurately. 

·      Call your vet. If no vet is available, the response resources will contact a qualified vet.

·      Keep animal and human victims warm, or shaded, if you can

·      Offer food and water to animal victims if possible to do it safely.


·      Attempt rescue yourself.

·      Attempt to pull an animal out of mud unless you have knowledge of safe mud extrication.

·      Attempt to roll or drag animal off a human.

·      Step onto a roadway accident scene.

·      Open a horse or livestock trailer involved in an accident.

·      Get yourself into a dangerous position trying to help victims.

We have super ATR resources in our area. These include three fully equipped and highly trained fire department teams in East and West Sonoma County, MarinCounty Sheriff Search and Rescue, and numerous municipal and volunteer fire agencies, plus a handful of National Park Service and Animal Welfare officers with basic skills in both counties.

As noted earlier, 911calls will be routed to the relevant agency. Aa so many Sonoma County residents ride in Marin, (and vice-versa), it’s important to know who provides these wonderful resources.

We’re all relieved to be getting rain. We know we need to add more prep awareness to our toolkits, and it’s not always about the big disasters.
Life happens, and animals add so much. In this month of spreading thoughts of love and affection, doesn’t it make sense to think about, and learn, ways to keep our furry loved ones safe?

We think so, and this is our HALTER Project Valentine to you!


Click HERE to download resources to help you and your animals.

NOTE: The ATR team resource information links included in this article and resources are specific to Sonoma and Marin Counties (CA).

Many counties and regions have similar resources!

To find them in your area, contact:

• Local Fire Department

• County Animal Control Agency

• Nearest University Veterinary School

To learn how to train and/or develop a Large Animal Technical Rescue Team, contact us to find get training resource info.