Manitoba

Manitoba rescue needs nearly 13,000 kg of food for pets in evacuated First Nations

A Manitoba rescue is sending all its pet food north and is hurrying to find more to care for hundreds of animals in two First Nations after their owners were forced out by fire.

Norway House Animal Rescue sending pet food to Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations

At least 500 dogs and cats are in need of care in Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations, Debra Vandekerkhove said. (Debra Vandekerkhove/Facebook)

A Manitoba rescue is sending all its pet food north and is hurrying to find more to care for hundreds of animals in two First Nations after their owners were forced out by fire.

The Norway House Animal Rescue is hoping to send 13,600 kilograms of pet food — about 30,000 pounds — to Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations, after the Canadian Red Cross asked the rescue for help to feed evacuees' pets, said rescue director Debra Vandekerkhove.

The rescue had about 900 kilograms of dog and cat food already, she said. That food is being sent up via float plane, which is set to fly out from Lac du Bonnet on Thursday.

"We just emptied out our own unit with the food that we have for the northern communities that we work with, and we got that to the plane today," Vandekerkhove said.

"We just emptied out everything. There's nothing left, nothing."

More than 1,000 people were airlifted to Winnipeg from the two communities last week as a huge fire raged nearby. Pets had to stay in the community, and Vandekerkhove guessed there are at least 500 dogs and cats that need care.

Jason Small, a spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross, said the Red Cross asked the rescue for help on Tuesday as food supplies in the community dwindled.

"We'd had some food that we were getting from the Northern Store up there and the RCMP were feeding the animals, but that was running out and there was a need for food," he said.

Norway House Animal Rescue donated roughly 900 kilograms of dog and cat food for pets in Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations, but the rescue director says they need far more. (Debra Vandekerkhove/Facebook)

So far, the plan is to fly food up on planes that are heading to the communities anyway to transport supplies and emergency workers in and out, Vandekerkhove said.

Separate planes just for food may still need to be chartered, she said.

"We're basically flying by the seat of our pants right now," she said. "We're just looking at the opportunities between [Manitoba] Sustainable Development, which has offered planes, as well as RCMP, the Red Cross. We're all working together as a team."

Vandekerkhove said her group has helped out in multiple evacuations in northern Manitoba in the past, including the Island Lakes fire evacuations last year.

She said she told the province at the time that pet care should be incorporated into evacuation planning from the outset so animal rescues aren't scrambling to find food at the last minute. She said she was told she could meet with provincial officials to discuss the concern further, but that never happened.

The group is accepting donations for animals at Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi — including puppy, dog and cat kibble as well as canned cat food, can openers, large metal spoons and empty containers or pails for water, as well as financial donations. Information about how to donate is on their Facebook page.

'They have to be taken into consideration'

Vandekerkhove said her group has helped out in multiple evacuations in northern Manitoba in the past, including the Island Lakes fire evacuations last year.

She said she told the province at the time that pet care should be incorporated into evacuation planning from the outset so animal rescues aren't scrambling to find food at the last minute. She said she was told she could meet with provincial officials to discuss the concern further, but that never happened.

"The province of Manitoba has to change the system that's in place with emergency services and they have to start including animal care, whether it's a companion pet or it's farmed animals," she said.

"They have to be taken into consideration and they're just not right now."

A spokesperson for the Manitoba government said in an email the evacuation of Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations is not a provincial responsibility, and questions about caring for the animals there don't fall under provincial responsibility.

"Further, as a matter of basic emergency management doctrine, Manitoba [Emergency Measures Organization] recommends that authorities planning evacuations consider the evacuation and/or care of domestic animals and livestock," the spokesperson said.

"This is noted in evacuation planning documents and in training delivered by Manitoba EMO."

She said she understands there's not always room for pets in planes taking people from remote, fly-in communities, but if pets are going to be left behind, there should be a plan in place to care for them.

That could include simply telling animal rescues when working fires are happening so they can start stockpiling food, she said, or putting pet food onto planes as they fly up to gather evacuees.

"We need to be a part of it," she said.

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