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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Disaster Animal Response Team launched in Cannon Beach

Visitors to Cannon Beach, Oregon, walk and play with their pets. A Disaster Animal Response Team, a volunteer group with the mission to assist pets and pet owners during an emergency, has been launched in Cannon Beach. (Colin Murphey / Colin Murphey/Daily Astorian)
By Brenna Visser The Daily Astorian

ASTORIA, Ore. – Bob Kroll has spent most of his life treating animals in distress. Sometimes that meant working as a veterinarian in an emergency clinic. Other times, it meant treating severe seizures in dogs at his practice in Clackamas.

But as Kroll enters into retirement, the longtime second homeowner may be tackling his toughest challenge yet – designing a plan to save the four-legged friends of Cannon Beach.

This spring, Kroll is teaming up with the city to launch a Disaster Animal Response Team – a volunteer group with the mission to assist pets and pet owners during an emergency.

With Kroll at the helm, part of the team’s role will be to recruit volunteers who can be trained in proper animal handling and basic pet medical care. As it grows, another goal will be to set up a network of animal shelters in conjunction with human shelters for misplaced or stranded animals.

The idea came to fruition after Kroll’s wife, a retired nurse, attended a Medical Reserve Corps meeting a little over a year ago in Cannon Beach, where dozens of retired doctors and nurses train for a natural disaster. When it came time from Kroll to retire, she asked the leaders of the group if they could use a veterinarian.

“It turns out the answer was ‘yes,’” Kroll said.

The group will join a growing trend of animal preparedness in Oregon, but is a first for Clatsop County.

“A lot will be about education, like how we tell people to prepare with a go-bag – it’s the same kind of thing for your pet,” Kroll said. “You want to pack some food and water, prescriptions, things that would help identify your pet if you got separated, leash and collar, things like that. Prepare your pets like you would prepare yourself.”

Package deal

While protecting animals has always been a priority for most pet owners, prioritizing animal emergency preparedness has only emerged as a local and state government responsibility in the past 10 years, said Ryan Scholz, the district veterinarian and emergency management liaison for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The state began to recognize its importance after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when insufficient shelter options made residents choose between leaving their pets behind or staying with them in danger. Many chose to stay, resulting in several deaths, Scholz said.

“There was a realization during that event that humans will put their life in jeopardy to save their pet. The two go hand in hand – you can’t address human needs without addressing the needs of their animals,” he said. “What we’ve seen is the corporate realization of this issue, with more community groups growing organically out of this realization.”

Since then, Scholz and his team provide resources and guidance to counties and communities on best practices for transporting supplies, sheltering and caring for livestock and pets in emergency situations from wildfires to tsunamis.

“You are going to get an organic, local response anytime animals are involved with danger,” Scholz said. “So it’s important that organic response has a structure.”

Similar animal response groups in Multnomah and Curry counties were put to the test last summer, Scholz said, when the Eagle Creek and Chetco Bar fires scorched thousands of acres of land and threatened hundreds of livestock.

“During Eagle Creek many were able to transport their own animals, or if they needed help, they had local community members with trucks and trailers organized to help with that assistance. Through the local disaster response group, there was a shelter at the fairgrounds. There was even a litter of piglets born,” Scholz said. “Without structure, people will come in and show up and take animals to save them, which can make things more difficult. But in Multnomah County they had a list of volunteers with credentials able to evacuate small farms and houses in less than 12 hours. They did heroic work.”

The state is still a ways from being fully prepared. The biggest roadblock to progress, like many other facets of emergency preparedness, is finding the funding to support programs and a volunteer trained in animal medicine to lead it, Scholz said.

But organizing response groups on a community-by-community basis is about as effective as preparedness gets, Scholz said.

“I’d love to see every county and city in the state do what Cannon Beach is doing,” he said. “It’s not the state doing it. It’s the local community groups that are doing this work.”

What’s next

The first step will be recruiting volunteers with animal handling experience, from anyone as specialized as a vet tech or dog groomer to a long-term pet owner.

“For the moment, the organization is kind of me,” Kroll said. “I’d like this to be a team approach. I’d like other people to share in the efforts and also share in the vision in what this organization will be.”