ONE OF THE most popular places to volunteer during this wildfire summer is — any place with animals.
Some days, the agencies that look after evacuated pets have more offers of help than they can accept. (Other days, there are desperate calls for volunteers on social media, and they usually show up very promptly.)
Who doesn’t want to cuddle a purring cat or take a cute dog for a walk?
One morning, at one of the shelters that looks after evacuated pets here in Kamloops, when I offered to volunteer, I was told to come back in a few days and try again.
That’s a good situation to be in.
Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying that “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Animal rights defenders like to use that quote, though there’s some dispute as to whether Gandhi actually said it. Regardless, it expresses a pretty common view of the issue.
We humans have a tarnished record in our treatment of animals, but in times of emergency our best protective instincts come out. We take admirable measures to bring them to safety and to care for them until they can go home.
Our concern isn’t just for house pets, either. Livestock and wildlife get the royal treatment as well. In some cases — as with farm animals like pigs, chickens, goats, sheep and so on — it’s business, but we still have an innate urge to see them through the crisis as fellow passengers on this planet.
The fight to save cattle is a big story in itself, with ranchers sometimes risking their own lives to save them. And, sometimes, they refuse to leave.
Rural folks love their horses as much as they do their dogs and cats, and do everything they can to get them to safety. It’s heart-breaking when they can’t extricate them, often being forced to simply let them loose to fend for themselves.
Some paint their phone numbers on their horses, then post photos on social media in hopes they’ll be found later. Every wildfire season, pictures circulate of horses tethered to vehicles as they’re slowly moved out of the fire zone.
In the rush to get out of Williams Lake, horse trailers were almost as common as trucks in the bumper-to-bumper exodus to Kamloops. Three RCMP officers on duty at a Williams Lake checkpoint saved three horses that had gotten loose. One was calmed with an apple from an officer’s lunch.
Feeding their lunches to hungry animals in fire zones seems to have become something of a regular thing for RCMP members, who have rescued pets, livestock and even a python named Medusa (who was re-united with its owner). A photo of an RCMP officer making nice with a couple of pigs on a roadway went viral.
Also near Williams Lake, three baby hawks — one with a broken leg — and a falcon named Merlin were rescued by the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society.
Groups like the SPCA, CDART, the Emergency Livestock and Animal Evacuation Group and many others flock into evacuation areas, working around the clock.
Some come from the other side of the country, some from other countries.
Looking after evacuated animals can be harder than looking after people. Keeping animals fed, watered and exercised, and manure cleaned up, is a round-the-clock proposition.
Meanwhile, money and food donations pour in.
If only we were so considerate of our fellow creatures all the time. If only there weren’t stories of unspeakable cruelties like the recent case at a chicken farm in the Lower Mainland, or if we could stop trophy hunting, or put an end to puppy mills and neglect.
Examples abound of the contradiction between the love we show for animals in times we’re joined in crisis, and our ability at other times to treat them as worthless objects when it suits us.
Like Ozzy, the Vancouver Island puppy that was found shot at least 12 times with a pellet gun this spring. (Stories about dogs being riddled with pellet guns are all too common.)
Remember Cecil the lion, shot with a crossbow by a Minnesota dentist two years ago in Zimbabwe? Last week, while so many were making such Herculean efforts to save animals from the wildfires here in B.C., Cecil’s six-year-old son Xanda was being killed by a trophy hunter.
The excuse? It’s legal.
We are a strange species. I wonder what Gandhi would be thinking now.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, former school board chair, former editor of The Kamloops Daily News, and a current director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He was awarded the Jack Webster Foundation’s lifetime achievement award in 2011. His editorials are published regularly on CFJC Today and he appears Wednesdays on the CFJC-TV evening news with his Armchair Mayor commentary. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.