IF YOU HAVE ANIMALS, NOW IS THE TIME TO PLAN BEFORE THE NEXT DISASTER STRIKES, AND VICTORIA BEELIK’S HANDBOOK AND EVACUATION PLANNING WORKSHOPS ARE A GOOD PLACE TO START.
Victoria Beelik has handled almost every kind of large animal emergency evacuation situation imaginable. In fact, she wrote the book: “Plan, Prepare, Implement: Large Animal Evacuation Planning.”
Beelik, who teaches animal evacuation planning skills at private clinics and workshops, has an important message for Santa Monica Mountain residents with large animals: wildfires can occur at any time of the year, and the best time to start planning is right now.
“I’ve been presenting “Plan, Prepare, and Implement” clinics since 2014,” Beelik told the Messenger Mountain News in a phone interview. She explained that she developed her program after many years of personal experience with emergency evacuation situations.
“I have personally seen how quickly events can turn tragic because of the lack of preparedness,” she said.
Beelik’s training was put to the test during the catastrophic Thomas Fire that swept through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties last December.
“The Thomas Fire was very bad, very stressful,” Beelik said, adding that disaster and the other increasingly more devastating fires in the past year should be a wake-up call for local horse owners.
“Make a plan,” she urged.
KNOW THE COMMUNITY
“Start by getting to know the horse community.”
Beelik strongly recommends making connections with other animal owners who can help provide a safe place to bring large animals. Joining the local chapter, aka Corral, of Equestrian Trails Inc. (ETI) is a good way to connect with other equestrians. Corral 36, the Mountain Ridge Riders, includes Agoura, Calabasas, Malibu, and Monte Nido; Corral 22, the Intervalley Trail Riders, covers the San Fernando Valley.
“It’s important to get involved,” Beelik said. She also recommends volunteering with animal services. The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Control shelter in Agoura Hills has facilities for large animals and routinely works with horses, goats, and other livestock.
“Animal service volunteers learn a ton,” Beelik said.
CREATE MULTIPLE OPTIONS
While there are designated evacuation sites like Pierce College during an emergency, Beelik stresses that horse owners should make their own arrangements by reaching out to area equestrians. She also recommends finding contacts on the other side of the valley and offering a reciprocal aid arrangement: Topanga animals can be transported to a safe place on the other side of the valley and the contact’s animals can be moved to Topanga if fire threatens them.
“The goal for planning is to find not just one person to trust, but two or three or four,” Beelik suggests in her handbook. “You can always borrow friends of friends. Once you’ve identified those people, they become your emergency contacts.”
Having multiple options for an emergency evacuation route and evacuation site is ideal.
“Fires move very quickly,” Beelik said. “Most people really do wait until it’s too late. With the Getty Fire, I would have been reaching out to my emergency contacts if I lived in Topanga. Don’t wait until the evacuation order goes out. Take your llama to a friend. Arrange for your horses to go to a safe place, make sure your contacts are people you can trust.”
In past local fires, horses and other livestock have been turned loose when the fire moved faster than the rescue effort. Beelik said that practice puts animals at risk for injury and death, and can cause serious complications for emergency responders. “Letting horses out is not doing good,” Beelik said. She recommends keeping a close eye on the wind and weather reports and proactively moving animals before it’s too late.
“Get your animals out early,” she urged.
PREPARE FOR THE UNEXPECTED
One of the most important things to learn is how to safely load animals into a trailer. Even well-trained animals can panic during an emergency. Smoke and high winds can spook any animal, and humans can inadvertently communicate their own fear to their animals.
At her clinics, Beelik helps horse owners train their animals to cope with panic using everything from Disco dancing to surprises like llamas. “We run back and forth. I make people do crazy things,” she said. The goal is to desensitize the horses to unexpected activity.
Beelik also recommends practicing loading and unloading trailers regularly. When multiple animals have to be loaded in the trailer, Beelik suggests bringing the dominant animal in first, and letting the others follow. The leader should also be the first out. Planning ahead for unloading, as well as loading, can help prevent complications.
For smaller animals like sheep or goats, a funnel system made from panels of chain link can make it easier to get independent-minded animals onboard. Small goats like pygmies can be crate trained, just like dogs.
Beelik, whose hens, Anna and Chicken Little, were on hand during the phone interview, recommends making sure there are enough crates and vehicle space to accommodate all household animals, including chickens. She pointed out that animal families sometimes grow beyond the owner’s ability to accommodate everyone in a vehicle during an emergency, and recommends making sure the evacuation plan covers every animal and every contingency.
CHECK AND MAINTAIN YOUR TRAILER
It’s critically important to check the trailer regularly.
“You need to do it every year,” Beelik said. “If someone hasn’t maintained their trailer they are going to be S.O.L. Floorboards rot out, accidents happen, brakes fail, tires blow out. Always change the spare. Even if the trailer is stored under a roof, the tires need to be replaced every five or six years.”
She also recommends keeping an updated supply of medicines and first aid supplies in the trailer. Halters, fly masks, and blankets should be stored in the trailer for use once the animal has arrived at its destination. Beelik recommends providing a break-away halter for each animal, but suggests never leaving halters, fly masks, or blankets on animals.
Identification material is also critically important. Beelik makes laminated stall hangers with the name of the animal, the name of the owner, and the contact information. She also suggests brightly colored dog tags with names and contact information that can be braided into the horse’s mane. Beelik recommends using several, tied on with brightly colored string or ribbon, and placed close to the head. Fetlock bands are another good ID method. Cattle markers can be used to write contact info directly on an animal, but work best on lighter-colored coats. Duct tape and Sharpies can be used in a pinch, but Beelik strongly recommends tags over tape. Break-away collars with dog tags can be used on goats, llamas, and other animals without manes.
Beelik’s handbook is an essential aid for anyone with horses or other large animals. It includes extensive planning worksheets, but she also shares some of her experiences, humorous and harrowing.
“It doesn’t have to be a job to start planning,” Beelik told said. “It can be fun. The bottom line is you have to take the time to plan. The difference between successful evacuation and a possible catastrophic outcome is planning.”
Remember: Every animal that is safely evacuated before the eleventh hour frees up resources and volunteers to cope with other emergencies.
Beelik’s handbook is available from Amazon. Horse owners interested in scheduling a clinic can contact her at: victoriabeelik.com. Her website also offers videos of past clinics and a helpful guide to braiding ID tags into a horse’s mane.
For information on ETI’’s local corral groups visit etinational.com. Residents who own llamas, goats, sheep, and other large animals may want to consider forming their own group.
In Topanga, Susan Clark’s Topanga Animal Rescue offers extensive advice on developing an evacuation plan for smaller domestic animals. Clark, herself, is tireless in her service to animals in need. Domestic or wild, large or small, she will answer the call. Donating to support organizations like Topanga Animal Rescue helps volunteers help residents before and when disaster strikes. topangaanimalrescue.com/emergency-game-plans.