Animal rescue: Helping the most helpless
Story and photo by Clarke Davis
In time of trouble, and there is always trouble somewhere, there are people who are focused on one thing—helping the animal world.
Jennifer Schrick, manager of the Jefferson County Humane Society’s animal shelter, is just such a person.
She is a member of the Kansas State Animal Response Team, a volunteer group that goes wherever they are needed to rescue animals.
Two such recent cases she was involved with are the Reading tornado and the anticipated flood in the Kennett, Mo., area.
In regard to the flood, which was averted, the response team mobilized under the auspices of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They acquired a building and the equipment sufficient to house 100 animals. They were ultimately overwhelmed with 500. While they did not have an ark, they were able to acquire a sufficient number of buildings for shelter.
There are always the large number of dogs and cats, but in this instance the list included horses, rabbits, chickens, goats, birds, gerbils, and a duck that could not swim.
The animals are all caged or crated or paneled, walked and seen to every day, and fed and watered.
“It’s all done very orderly,” Schrick said. The animal is checked in by its owner and there is paperwork that follows the animal along with a special collar.
“It’s truly gratifying to see how appreciative the people are who are leaving and can’t take their animals,” she said.
Schrick got a call the morning after the Reading tornado and within a couple of hours she and Mary Prewitt, a Sarcoxie Township resident, were on their way.
There’s no advance warning in the case of a tornado, so the job is taking in abandoned and stray animals of all kinds and then working to reunite them with their owners. Furthermore, there is a curfew and people have to leave the area, so it gives the residents who still have their animals a place to care for them.
The state response team is headquartered in the fire department.
“The doors were gone and the back wall had been blown out, but it provided shelter,” Schrick said.
They were aided by a Shawnee County response truck equipped with cages. The pet supply company, PetSmart, often provides a semi-truck that is equipped with cages to assist in animal recovery.
Schrick said she could not go to Joplin, but she appreciates her employer allowing her the time to respond as often as she does in these cases.
Schrick is schooled in animal rescue, courses that can be obtained through the Internet along with a course from the University of Colorado. These classes deal with animal handling and first aid. One class covered psychological first aid in dealing with people who are facing disruption in their lives.
“People often refuse to leave a dangerous situation because they won’t leave their animals,” she said. “They are twice as likely to evacuate if they know their animals are in safe keeping.”
Prewitt serves on the board that directs the state response team known as SART. She and Schrick are now at work to form a northeast Kansas response team that will serve a 22-county region.
The State Animal Response Team is about four years old and Prewitt was on board before that helping organize it. She said the state team is actually just a facilitator working to encourage county and regional teams. She said the Greensburg tornado was the primary trigger to start a response team in Kansas. Nationally it was Hurricane Andrew in the East that got some started earlier.
“It would be our dream to have 105 county teams, but we know that will not happen,” she said. “We are now working to form regional teams.”
In the northeast Kansas area, the best formed groups are in Shawnee, Douglas, and Miami counties, she said. It is her hope they will also join to encourage a regional response team.
A Wichita veterinarian Christen Skaer is credited with bringing about a successful response team in Sedgwick County. She is president of the SART board.
Prewitt is a veteran of the Katrina hurricane and Coffeyville flood, having spent a month working in animal rescue in both places.
She said a national animal response group took over a livestock pavilion to serve as a triage near Baton Rouge after Katrina.
“My job there was exporting animals,” she said.
Animals were rescued and taken in and housed and then care facilities were found throughout the United States to take care of them.
The flood in 2007 at Coffeyville had its own unique problems. The water covered an oil refinery, so it was an oily mess and posed greater health risks for the animals.
Schrick, a Mooney Creek native who lives at Nortonville, has managed the animal shelter for 18 months. Her partner, Mark Wiseman, is also employed at the shelter. At home they have six cats, two dogs, and three children.
She said animals have been her whole life. She is often asked how she can go into those areas of devastation and deal with some pretty tragic situations.
“How can you not?” is her response.
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