Fort McMurray horse owners surveyed in wake of fire

Horse owners who were affected by the wildfires in and around Fort McMurray, Alta., earlier this year have been asked to provide information about their experience so they can help other horse owners in the future.

The Alberta Equestrian Federation conducted an online survey this summer designed to learn about owners’ reactions to the fire and the outcomes of their actions. The deadline for the survey was Aug. 11.

The information gathered will be used to help all horse owners develop emergency preparedness plans, said project co-ordinator Mikki Shatosky of the federation.

‘’’We’re trying to get people to respond to how (evacuation) worked or didn’t work while it’s fresh in people’s minds,” she said.

The federation has not heard of any horses lost or killed in the fire, and horses that were turned loose during the emergency have been reunited with their owners, said Shatosky.

In addition to horse owners who had to evacuate during the fire, she also hoped to hear from those who sheltered horses during the month-long disaster.

“We’re hoping to learn about where people went to get help, if that was useful. What do they suggest would help? How did they make their decisions to turn the animals loose or haul them out? Did people have the capacity to haul the horses out? Do they have trailers? Do they have an emergency management plan and if not, will they be developing one from here?”

Shatosky said the federation also plans to launch a similar survey of horse owners throughout Alberta.

Floods, prairie fires and other disasters have struck the province in recent years, so emergency management might be closer to top of mind, she said.

The safety of people always comes first in emergencies, but the fate of animals has to be considered after that and the roles of emergency response teams, RCMP, fire departments and agricultural fieldsmen in livestock matters are part of it.

“It’s more bringing the systems together, so people know where to go, some kind of co-ordinated approach to these situations,” said Shatosky.

“A lot of people have trouble leaving, too, when their animal is left behind, be it a dog or a horse. And horses are so different than dogs or cats or anything. Look at the size of the animals.”

For example, horse owners might want to consider where they would take animals in the event of an emergency and who they would call for assistance if it is needed.

“Who do you go to? Who do you call? Are you aware of biosecurity, disease and that kind of stuff? If not, then you need to catch up on that type of stuff,” Shatosky said.

“There are lots of people that want to help (in an emergency), especially when it comes to horses … but what is the best way for them to help without hindering the situation, to be of the most use?”

Filling out the survey could also have another beneficial effect, she said.

“(It could) get them talking about it and thinking of different scenarios so when something does happen, there can be a bit more of a co-ordinated approach … to keep the animal safe.”

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