Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pets experience the trauma from fire evacuation similar to us humans

Being evacuated from your home with no more than 20-30 minutes to leave can effect us in surprising ways.  For my husband it made him feel more in control instead of less.  He took the lead and is my hero for doing that because I felt suddenly lost and out of control over my own life.  I felt a huge responsibility to protect my grandchildren and my pets, and was overwhelmed by that responsibility.

When we saw the fire growing out of control we knew evacuation was imminent.  That is when I started grabbing the cats and placing them in the crate.  Harry and Molly were both inside the house so they went in the crate first, but I had to go looking for Marvin.  I ran around outside the house calling him but he didn't come, that is not typical for him.  The cats all know their name and they all come to me right away when I call them.  I went back inside the house and did another search of the house, specifically the guest room that they think is their own.  My granddaughter crawled under the bed and found him up in the box frame hiding.  All of this commotion and smell of smoke in the air must have scared him.  We got him out and placed him in the crate along with his two litter mates.  They were obviously shaken up.  Harry was spinning in circles and his eyes were huge as he tried to take it all in.

We drove for three hours to my daughters home.  The last half hour the cats were crying so loudly that my husband could barely hear me on the cell phone (we were in separate vehicles, they were with him and the dogs).  We happen to have our 5th wheel parked in an RV park in the city where our daughter lives because we have been working on a couple of house remodels there.  So the plan was to take the chickens to her house and set up the kennel in the back yard, then the cats and dogs would stay with us in the RV.  But with the cats so upset we decided to take the cats straight to the RV to get them out of the crate where they could calm down, then we would go to our daughters house and set up the chicken housing.

When we released the cats in the RV they were so scared.  They hadn't been in the RV since they were tiny babies so after being put in  a crate, driven around for hours, then dumped in an unfamiliar place, they were nearly in shock.  Their cat litter box was still in the trailer from when they were kittens, so I just filled it with litter and gave them a bowl of fresh water.  I did happen to find a small package of their cat food that was also left from when they were kittens, so I offered it to them.  They were not interested in eating just yet.  We gave them some loving petting, and talked to them calmly for a few moments, then we had to leave to get to our daughters to get the chickens set up for the night.

Once at my daughters house it was dark so we assembled the 6' x 6' chainlink dog kennel in the light of a porch light, while holding a flashlight.  This was much less room then they are use to having at home, but at least they were all safe.  After nearly not being able to catch Big Red we were so relived that we did finally get her because this would have been a very sad time if we had to leave any of them behind.  We put plywood on top of the kennel to keep the chickens in (they do not have clipped wings) and other critters out.   Then it was time to release them in their temporary shelter.  I placed each of the crates inside the dog kennel and locked myself inside.  Then I opened each of the crate doors.  Big Red came out first because she wanted out of that crate so bad.  She didn't have much room to walk around in the small kennel, especially with me and 5 crates inside.  A few of the other chickens came out of the crate but some of them refused to come out.  There were all very upset.  I reached in to one crate to pet Barbara, but she was so scared she pecked at me.  I continued to talk to them calmly, trying to coax them out.  Eventually they all came out but they were not happy.  They pecked at each other, flew around like they were insane, and pecked at me if they bumped in to me.

I felt so bad for them.  I worried that they might hurt each other or themselves being all cooped up in the small space without a coop to bed down in, especially after driving in the back of the truck in a crate for 3 hours.  I know I would have been freaked out myself.  I did have the forethought to grab my single water bottle waterer so I wired it up to the wall of the kennel.  I stayed with them a little while longer trying to calm them with my presence but it seemed that they were all so traumatized that my presence seemed to be making them even more upset so I closed them in the kennel and turned off the lights.  I was hopeful that with darkness they would just go to sleep and feel better in the morning.

The next morning I got up early and went to my daughters house to check on the chickens.  They were hungry and letting me know it too.  In our haste to leave our home I only grabbed a  gallon ziploc bag of dry chicken feed that was in my can from when they were babies.  I poured some of it into a cake pan my daughter had but the chickens were upset that it was not their usual food...I have been feeding them fermented feed with seeds and goodies mixed in. (that post is coming soon)  This dry dish of crumbles was NOT what they expected and they were voicing their distaste for it too.  Barry got in the dish and was kicking it out of the dish...searching for his delicious wet food!  Big Red was squawking loudly over this awful dry, plane food.   I grabbed my bottle of water and poured it into the dish and used a stick to stir up the food.  Then they calmed down a bit and ate their food.  This was at least closer to what they were use to.

The next task at hand was to make their temporary home more homey.  My hubby rustled up two more kennel panels so we were able to extend the kennel our another 5 feet (increasing another 30 sq ft).  We put tarps over the top of the new section and around the back side where the sun tends to shine the most, giving them the feeling of being enclosed.  The hubby cut the ends of a few 2x4's to make them two roosts.  As we did all these things to make the new run more homey you could almost feel the tension dissipating among the chickens.  They stopped being so aggressive with each other and with me as well.  Barbara, Goldie, and even Alice and Lucy let me pick them up and talk to them while petting them.  This helped me feel calmer as well as helping them calm down.  I think we are going to be okay.  At least until the day we pack them back up in the crates and head home.  Fortunately, last time we left the RV I left my van here, so for the ride home the chickens can ride in the van without all the wind they had to endure on the ride here in the back of the pickup.  It should be a much easier ride home.

The chickens temporary home.

Chowing down on their wet food.

Checking out the 2x4 roost hubby installed.

The first night in evacuation the cats were still stressed, jumping at every new noise or movement we made.  But now after two days everyone is settling in.  We are giving everyone lots of extra love and attention and I think it is helping us all get through this time of uncertainty.  Now that my babies are doing better, I have been calming down as well.  The first two days I could not eat.  The thought of putting food in my mouth made me feel like vomiting.  My heart ached for how this was effecting my pets, and the feeling of having no control over my own life, and the tremendous sadness I feel for the 19 firefighters who died in this fire.  But as I relax knowing that my pets are going to be okay and I deal with the emotions I am feeling for the lose of young lives, I have been able to finally eat some food and keep it down.
Harry, Marvin, and Molly eating on the bunk bed

Barbara resting calmly.

I wish we knew what was happening with the fire.  The news is either not getting reports from the fire crews or they are just not sharing that with us.  When we left the fire was encircling our community and the news says it is still very much out of control, so we have no idea what has been burned in our neighborhood.  I assume that if our house burns down someone will contact us.  We hope the evacuation will be lifted soon so we can go home and start to put our lives back together.  I continue to feel heart ache in my soul for the firefighters who have lost their lives, and to be so thankful for the ones that are continuing to fight this fire.  I am so sad for those in Yarnell who have lost their homes.  We are ready to join forces with others in our community to begin to rebuild their homes and our community.

Keeper of 1 husband, 2 grandkids, 3 dogs,
3 cats, and 17 Chickens!
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Did this post stir something inside of you? If so, Please leave me a comment, I would love to know what you're thinking!!!