Cherished horse, pregnant cow airlifted to safety from flooded Nicola River farms
Horse credited with saving owner's life takes a helicopter ride after being cut off by rising water
A small menagerie of marooned animals — including a horse and a pregnant cow — were rescued in recent days from flooded farms on the Nicola River west of Kamloops, B.C., using a helicopter, a specialized livestock harness and a whole lot of ingenuity.
Kim Cardinal says it was a desperate situation when her two horses and mule became trapped on a stretch of pavement near the community of Spences Bridge following torrential rains that ultimately swept her home into the raging Nicola River last Monday.
Cardinal says she can still hear the sounds of smashing boulders and glass as her house was destroyed by the power of the waters.
She and her partner Lorne Cardinal were airlifted to safety after a B.C. Hydro crew spotted smoke from a campfire they had lit after their house was destroyed. But their animals remained trapped by flooded roads.
"The horse — Winter — saved my life. I just couldn't bear the thought of him there, dying after that," said Cardinal.
She said the horse began acting spooked and almost "dancing" as the waters rose. It alerted her and Lorne to the danger and they got out just in time, she said.
But the rushing water made it impossible to get Winter, along with a mini-horse named Spicey and mule named Moxy, to safety.
Kelly Kennedy says she got a call last Thursday from RCMP livestock officer Cpl. Cory Lepine about the dire situation.
"I was thinking about it and I was like, why can't we just airlift them out?" said Kennedy, a director with the Horse Council of B.C. who also runs Sageview Rescue Centre in Kamloops.
Over the next three days she orchestrated the rescue.
She hired Summit Helicopters with funds from the B.C. Horse Council and had a special sling shipped from the Fraser Valley to Kamloops.
Aldergrove veterinarian Dr. David Paton owns the device, known as an Anderson Sling, that protects large animals when they are lifted off the ground — which is both difficult and dangerous.
WATCH | Winter the horse is airlifted to safety:
The contraption allows this to be done — usually for urgent transport — with little risk to the animal. Paton recommended using the sling in this rescue, which he called a "perfect" example of its usefulness, given there was no other way to get the animals out of their spot.
Paton said despite the fact that horses do not generally fly, they handle being moved in a sling quite well.
"Horses are amazingly calm and quiet, they may need a mild sedation — kind of a little bit of an exciting ride for sure. Once they are airborne they're not struggling or thrashing," he said.
Paton says there is only one Anderson Sling in the province and this type of rescue was a first in B.C.
At the beginning of the operation, Kennedy met the pilot Aaron Toombs near Spences Bridge and they flew over the muddy, angry river to the rescue site. The harness took so long to fasten on Winter that the tranquilizer used to keep the horse calm wore off.
"That horse was wide awake. He stayed quiet through the air but when it came to landing it took the helicopter half an hour before we could drop him and try and get a long line on him to control him," said Kennedy.
By then, Kennedy said "the whole town" of Spences Bridge had come to watch as the pilot tried to delicately land the big horse without breaking the large animal's legs.
"It wasn't pretty but we got it done." Kennedy said.
Some of the other animals needing rescuing were too small for the sling, so Kennedy devised a backup plan. A massive grain tote made out of netting that can handle loads of up to 680 kilograms of feed was used to cradle the smaller animals in and fly them to safety.
Update: Tina the Cow has been rescued! The <a href="https://twitter.com/HorseCouncilBC?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HorseCouncilBC</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/Summitheli?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Summitheli</a> along with Sageview Rescue successfully brought her out today. We flew over as they were rigging her up!<a href="https://t.co/KoRZGCdbDn">https://t.co/KoRZGCdbDn</a>—@BradleyFriesen
Then they heard the neighbours nearby were also in need — with a pregnant Jersey cow named Tina and three goats, cut off by the floods.
But by Friday night they'd run out of daylight and money for the $3,000-per-hour helicopter so they had to refuse. However, the pilot knew a government official looking at the highways who had a helicopter booked but only half a day of work on Monday, so they used that aircraft for the goats and the pregnant cow.
They laid the cargo net on the ground, "and the cow walked into the middle of it and we just scooped her up," said Kennedy.
It took three days and used up the animal rescue contingency fund of the Horse Council of B.C., but in the end they rescued two horses, a mule, a pregnant cow, nine puppies, two large dogs, three goats and several cats.
Cardinal says she can't stop sobbing thinking about the ordeal, and is so thankful that she survived and that her animals got out thanks to fast-thinking volunteers — especially Kennedy.
"She is my hero," Cardinal said.
- A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the farms were located near the Thompson River. In fact, they were near the Nicola River.Nov 23, 2021 6:59 AM PT
With files from Baneet Braich