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Team helps pets uprooted by fire

Volunteers shelter evacuees’ critters

Spokane County called on a new band of volunteers – a team called HEART – in dealing with horses, goats, dogs, cats and other livestock evacuated by the Valley fire Thursday.

The team of volunteers formed as one of the lessons learned from the 1991 firestorm, which destroyed 112 homes, according to Nancy Hill, director of Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, or SCRAPS.

As soon as she heard that a wildland fire threatened homes and evacuations were ordered Thursday, Hill said she activated HEART, headed by Janis Christensen. The HEART members are Spokane County Sheriff’s Office volunteers, given background checks and animal-handling training, who care for displaced animals.

After some initial confusion Thursday evening, residents who fled their homes south of the Dishman Hills were told to take their animals to the Spokane Fair and Expo Center, where they were greeted by the Human Evacuation Animal Rescue Team.

“They are highly trained, energetic and ready to go,” Hill said of the team. “They are an excellent resource for us.”

In almost no time, the 50 volunteers had assembled at a livestock building at the fairgrounds and begun collecting animal crates from SCRAPS, PetSavers and the Spokane Humane Society.

The team logged in the names of pets and their temporarily displaced owners who went elsewhere to spend the night. The team also took in stray animals found in the fire area.

An older dog found wandering near Interstate 90 was taken to the HEART compound and successfully reunited with its owner Friday, thanks to a computer chip and dog license.

“We have four dogs, seven cats, three horses and three goats,” Christensen said shortly after dawn at the fairgrounds.

Eight of her volunteers stayed up all night with the animals, offering them food, water, bathroom breaks and friendly pats on the head, Christensen said.

It was the second time HEART has been activated. The first came last fall, when SCRAPS needed volunteers to assist county animal control officers who seized more than 40 guinea pigs that were being hoarded in squalid conditions.

“They’re useful for a natural disaster like this, but also for hoarding cases – any time we need extra hands to help us care for animals,” Hill said.

Contact Bill Morlin at (509) 459-5444 or billm@spokesman.com.

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