Animal Rescue Mistakes After a Wildfire

Colorado suffered a terrible wildfire in late 2021, driven by insanely strong winds that swept through neighborhoods and entire cities. Find really good coverage of that Marshall Fire here. Amidst the Devastation? So many lost and scared pets and people desperate to help them. Immediately, Facebook groups popped up with people sharing photos, locations, and the like for lost and found pets. As much as everyone wants to help, many make mistakes when it comes to animal rescue. Here are the top things NOT to do in my humble opinion.


Animal rescue mistakes – what NOT to do

1. Don’t put yourself in an active wildfire or even after it.

First responders don’t need a bunch of people thrown into an already difficult situation. Even in the days immediately after the fire, it’s not safe to just go and poke around in destroyed neighborhoods.

A bunch of strangers trudging through the neighborhood can startle pets who are already freaking out. When they start running or move to unfamiliar areas, it can be a huge mistake in animal rescue and hinder the process of reuniting people with their beloved pets.

Ask for organized, qualified search parties if you really need to be there.

2. Don’t ask/expect instant updates from families desperate to find their lost pets.

Honestly, *keeping you in the loop isn’t their job or their priority. Be patient. Some success stories will come with time.

3. Don’t grab or catch every cat you see.

Some may be pets. Some may be community cats. If they appear unharmed, it is better to leave them in areas where they feel safe. Removing them, even taking them to local shelters that accept pets from the wildfire area, can reduce the chances of being reunited with their families or caregivers.

Cats in particular require a special type of rescue. Specialists often come on board as soon as it is safe to assist in this effort and work for weeks to find and capture lost cats. If you want to learn more about them, they sometimes run short training sessions before deploying to the area. Helping stray cats is very different from helping stray dogs.

4. Keep your judgments to yourself.

During the Marshall Fire in particular, there was a dog daycare where not all of the dogs could fit in their cars as they fled the fast-moving fire, so they let some of the dogs (including their own) loose. With almost no time to react, everyone did their best and certainly didn’t need judgments from those unaffected.

PS: All 41 dogs from this daycare survived.

5. Donate only what local animal rescue organizations say they need.

Yes, everyone feels helpless in these situations and wants to do something/something, but an avalanche of items that they don’t need, can’t use, don’t have space to store etc. doesn’t help and only adds to the burden on animal shelters, when it comes to complicated scenarios and people making mistakes in animal rescue after something like a massive wildfire.

6. If you’re helping to rescue a displaced dog, make sure it’s really, really safe.

Freaky dogs run away even when their families are *right there to get them from a rescuer. Several dogs that were lost, then found, disappeared again (sometimes for a few days) when frightened while being handed over to their grateful families.

Perhaps do the swap in a well fenced area if possible.

7. Don’t just post sightings on social media. Report them to the right people.

Don’t just post sightings of possibly missing pets on social media. Often the animal rescue organizations and disaster teams like these have teams on call to round up lost pets. Take photos if possible. Make a note of the exact location and direction of travel and report this information to the relevant authorities (or families if you’re reasonably sure you’ve seen a missing pet).

8. Don’t post supportive comments on social media that just flood important threads with too much unhelpful information.

Instead, use the reaction buttons to show support and keep the threads of families trying to find lost pets tidy so they can easily see any possible sightings or information that’s more important than the thoughts and prayers of some strangers be able.

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