Being evacuated and having to find a place to live can be emotionally and logistically difficult. But doing it with pets can be even more challenging.
Residents who are evacuated don’t want to be separated from their animals, but they don’t always have a choice. For residents who have to find alternative arrangements for pets, the La Plata County Humane Society has offered help.
As of Friday, the Humane Society was sheltering 42 dogs, 17 cats, two ducks, one rabbit and a turtle whose owners were all evacuated.
The shelter is taking as many animals as it can fit and could make more space available if additional pets need a place to stay as a result of evacuations, said Executive Director Michelle Featheringill.
If the shelter needs more capacity, animals owned by the shelter could be transferred to other shelters in the state, she said.
Small pets can be brought to the Humane Society, but staff asks that pre-evacuated residents not bring their pets to the shelter until they are under mandatory evacuation.
Some pet owners prefer to keep their animals close to them while evacuated.
Katie Elliot, along with her cat, Coraline, and dogs, Boomer and Sadie, piled into the car after being evacuated from the Hermosa area. All three animals stayed in the car, motor running, air conditioner blasting Friday afternoon while Elliot grabbed a bite to eat at 11th Street Station in downtown Durango.
Elliot left a note in the window letting passers-by know the animals were OK.
“Hi – please don’t panic – the a/c is on blast & we are chilling. We are evacuated by 416 fire & making it an adventure!” the note reads.
Elliot and her fiancée, who are staying at a friend’s house, do not have kids, so their pets are like their babies, she said.
The only way she will part with her animals is if it’s a last resort, she said, because she prefers to spend time with them.
Despite the stress of not being at home, Elliot said the animals have been handling it well.
“(With) how well they’ve been, we could do a cross-country trip with them and the cat, no problem,” she said.
About 12 animals had been sheltered at Willow Tree kennels in the Animas Valley, said owner Susan Harris. However, the facility near Trimble Hot Springs was put on pre-evacuation notice Friday. Harris said about six animals remained at the kennel Friday afternoon, and their owners planned to pick them up if there is a full evacuation.
Other shelters in the area, as well as veterinarians, have been working together to house animals, she said.
The air in Durango has been filled with heavy smoke, prompting health advisories.
Just as too much smoke exposure can be dangerous to humans, smoke can also be dangerous to pets, so outside activity should be limited, said LPCHS Director of Animal Services Chris Nelson.
The Humane Society recommends keeping a box full of essentials in case evacuation is necessary.
This includes food, water, a blanket, toys, medications and vaccination and medical records.