'It has to be done:' Kamloops team heads animal evacuation efforts - InfoNews

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'It has to be done:' Kamloops team heads animal evacuation efforts

Judy Banks has a background in driving transport trucks and is proud of the team that's assembled in the Kamloops area to help move animals under evacuation orders.
July 18, 2017 - 6:30 PM

When wildfires sparked across the province this summer, Judy Banks' mind snapped back to 2003 and specifically the 1,800 animals she and her team had a hand in saving.

Banks and a group of veterans in animal rescue who stepped up in the brutal fire season 14 years ago are again heading an effort to evacuate and temporarily re-home animals in danger. Banks has a background in driving transport truck and is proud of the team that's returned to help.

"Back then, it couldn't just be someone with a fancy horse trailer, it had to be someone who knew their way around the backcountry," she says.

It started then with roughly 60 people in the greater Kamloops area and has grown thanks to many volunteers.

"We came together because some people had the same values in mind. That was just do what we had to do to get those animals out of there," Banks says.

Today, the team's mission is to pick up animals in need of evacuation, collect feed and redistribute it as needed and temporarily resettle animals until they can go back home.

The dusty, vast and quiet KXA grounds on Mount Paul Centre Way on the Tk'emlups reserve used to be a horse racing track. It's now a bustling, but comfortable temporary home for chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, horses and one watchful, slender barn cat.

Volunteer Jackie Guy enjoys caring for the evacuated animals and says when she heard people were being pushed out of their homes she just wanted to help.
Volunteer Jackie Guy enjoys caring for the evacuated animals and says when she heard people were being pushed out of their homes she just wanted to help.

Early this month, when evacuation alerts started, Banks contacted Tk'emlups Chief Fred Seymour and asked for permission to use the land. Seymour agreed and Banks says the operation wouldn't be possible without help from Sonny Leonard, Ernie Thomas and band volunteers.

On July 14, helpful volunteers hauled hay in scorching 35 Celsius weather, while another handed out iced coffees to anyone who looked like they need one.

The makeshift office has binders, notebooks and paperwork fluttering in the breeze atop a folding table. Behind hangs a huge dry erase chart detailing all the animals' names, owners contact information and any important dietary restrictions.

Banks never raced on these grounds, but in the past she used the arena for show jumping.

A large number of the evacuation team are horse owners, or people with horse knowledge.

"Most of us are horse people. We are the ones who know how to get everything in a trailer without hurting it," Banks says with a smile.

It really doesn't matter that the group's expertise is with horses. Any animal that needs help will get it.

There are horses, chickens, sheep, and goats staying in the horse stalls at the KXA grounds.
There are horses, chickens, sheep, and goats staying in the horse stalls at the KXA grounds.

"Over the years I've loaded everything in my trailer from lizards, to draft horses, to special containers filled with... very weird fish," Banks says. "It's either that, or let them burn."

The group does not take in animals and temporarily re-home them to any place sight unseen. They make sure the person offering space is experienced and capable of taking care of the animal. Most importantly, they ensure the land is safe.

"We can't just send the animals anywhere. Some of these horses have never been kept outside," Banks explains. "There are very few places that are safe enough to put horses."

Local knowledge and networking is a huge team asset. Most of the coordinators have lived the greater Kamloops area for years and know exactly who to call if a need arises. Banks says while they mean well, sometimes people offer up space that is unfit or unsafe, and places like that are not considered when re-homing an animal.

"Maybe it's my upbringing but as soon as I put my hand on the shank or put the animal in my trailer, it's precious cargo. I don't care what breed or species it is, it's going somewhere safe," she says. 

Drivers are not accepting money or donations. Banks says they are helping simply because it needs to be done.

"Some of us are working, some of us aren't. Some of us got special days off to do this," she says. "If you've ever worked rescue or evacuation before, no one questions it. It just needs to be done."

In 2003, Banks says the B.C. SPCA came on board to help. As of last week, the team is working alongside the Ministry of Agriculture, B.C. Emergency Animal Evacuation and C-DART and the Horse Council of B.C.

Anyone interested in volunteering should contact donations coordinator Teresa Hunt on Facebook. The group is in the process of setting up a phone line and this story will be updated once the number is available.

The team is currently looking for donations of hay, and low sugar and low carbohydrate horse feed.

Looking ahead, they are watching the weather and staying ready.

"It'll be up to the wind. We are prepared for anything," Banks says. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kim Anderson or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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