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September 15, 2007

Harnett County hosts large animal rescue workshop

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At a Harnett County farm, a small group of volunteers maneuvers around a horse that has fallen from an overturned horse trailer. Careful not to injure the animal, they place straps under and around his body to pull him to safety.

Though the horse and volunteers are real, the situation is actually a technical large animal rescue training organized by North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Harnett County, along with Harnett County Emergency Management, County Animal Response Teams of Harnett and Cumberland counties and the N.C. Farm Bureau.

The training, held in May, was the second one organized by livestock agent Tyrone Fisher and the other partners. The event attracted 45 hands-on trainees, along with 10 auditors from across the state and even across the state line. The group included animal control officers, Cooperative Extension professionals, first responders, horse owners, veterinarians, fire fighters and paramedics.

Tori Miller
Tori Miller of Harnett County works with a horse as part of the large animal rescue held there recently.(Photo by Daniel Kim)

During the three-day training, trainees participated in drills and exercises designed to prepare them for training and assisting other rescue personnel with removing large animals from mud, high water, an overturned trailer and more.

The professionals who conduct the training, Tomas and Rebecca Gimenez, use their own live horses, and a llama, that have been trained to cooperate as part of the training. The mud-rescue drill is performed with a “horse mannequin” because the live horses learned to shun the mud pits created for training.

“Participants can take this type of training back to the counties where they reside or work and use it as mutual aid,” said Tori Miller, 911 dispatcher in Harnett County and animal welfare officer.

“If they have knowledge from this training, they can respond with the emergency responders or with the veterinarians and assist in an emergency. They can actually teach other people in their county certain techniques that they have learned in this training.”

Once they’ve gone through the rescue training, these individuals will be equipped to assist with animals stuck in mud, hurricane situations, barn fires or large animals in overturned vehicles, Miller said.

A number of trainees in the class represented County Animal Response Teams. The teams are called to help with both small and large animals in the event of an emergency.

Melissa Brunner, an agricultural technician with the Onslow County CART, said her county near the North Carolina coast often has to activate when hurricanes are approaching. The group works with the American Red Cross to set up small animal shelters at sites designated as Red Cross emergency shelters. The CART-provided shelter allows evacuees to bring their pets with them when they are forced to leave their homes.

Brunner says her team has not been called on to perform large animal rescue operations. But now in the middle of hurricane season, she feels it is only a matter of time.

“We can take this information back and start up our large animal group,” she said. “I have a feeling that it is imperative to know this information. You never know when you’ll need to use it.”

Fisher says accidents involving horses getting mired in mud or slipping into rivers or streams are fairly common, especially in the Piedmont where there are numerous trail riding opportunities exist on private farms. Trained CART volunteers are helpful to rescue personnel who encounter these situations.

“We’ve had several situations along the Cape Fear River where animals have fallen into the river and because of the steep bank, animals could not get out of the river,” Fisher said. “So our volunteers have shown up and assisted in the situation and resolved it with the training like what they received today. You’ve got to know where to put the belts on the animal, where to hold the animal properly. If lifted in the wrong place, the animal can fall out or be injured.”

There is a four-step process involved in creating a CART group, Fisher says. The steps are 1) initiation; 2) committee formation; 3) writing a plan; and 4) completing tabletop exercises. Many counties have begun the process, but have not had a CART certified.

The State Animal Response Team has a database of 100 individuals trained in technical large animal rescue, but more are needed, Fisher says. Although the Eastern counties are well aware of the hurricane threats, counties even in the West have experienced floods and other disasters in recent years that can pose problems for large animals.

“All of North Carolina needs to be covered with CART teams,” he said.

-N. Hampton

Posted by Natalie at September 15, 2007 01:39 PM