Cambrian: Opinion

Feline evacuation: HART has a plan in a pillowcase

Evelyn Zanella, left, and Sara Tiedeman prepare to “bag” Pumpkin.
Evelyn Zanella, left, and Sara Tiedeman prepare to “bag” Pumpkin. Special to The Cambrian

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, many pets perished, and those lucky enough to be rescued were often displaced and sent all over the country. The HART (Homeless Animal Rescue Team) Evacuation Committee is working on plans to make sure its residents are kept safe if Cambria is faced with a disaster.

Wildfires are of particular concern. CERT (Cambria’s Community Emergency Rescue Team) has designated fenced yards for sheltering dogs. But what is to be done with cats? On any given day, HART has 70-plus cats and kittens in residence. In the event of fire, for example, how can that many animals be moved quickly without traumatizing them? And to where?

“Herding cats” has literal as well as figurative implications for HART. Fortunately, with a lot of help from generous community members, the Evacuation Committee has figured out a workable plan to do just that! Ann Pope, Evacuation Committee chair, is enthusiastic about the progress they have made since October 2015 when they began their work.

How does it work?

HART is working with Cal Fire and the Cambria CSD Fire Department. In the event of a disaster, one of these agencies will call Lynn Lamb and Terry Hanson (Evacuation Committee coordinators) who will activate a phone tree to circulate instructions with directions to either “shelter in place” or to evacuate.

The Evacuation Committee has developed guidelines for both scenarios. Designated volunteers will handle the relocation of cats and supplies, if needed. This is where it gets tricky.

How to move them

The committee has devised an ingenious system of using pillowcases with drawstrings to gently encase the cats and kittens for transport. Mission Linens donated the pillowcases, and HART volunteers attached the drawstrings.

Since the large cages at HART are too bulky to move quickly and easily, carriers will be sectioned and used as “cups” into which to nestle the pillowcased cats. Volunteer drivers will transport the cats to a designated site.

Where to take them

To the south: Borradori Garage in Cayucos has generously offered space to shelter the animals, and Cambria’s Cookie Crock will donate several days’ allotment of water for both cats and caregivers.

To the north, on Highway 1, and east, on Highway 46: HART is still looking for charitable donors to provide temporary sites — preferably structures enclosed from the elements, such as barns or garages. Tents may end up being a less desirable alternative.

The Evacuation Committee is working proactively to anticipate and mitigate potential problems, regardless of the threat, and will hold periodic drills and training to streamline the process and work out the bugs.

Note: In any disaster, HART and all emergency agencies strongly advise volunteers to secure their own homes and pets first, before attending to volunteer commitments.

Cambria is a community that cares. If you would like to volunteer, serve on the Evacuation Committee or try your hand at “herding cats,” please call HART at 805-927-7377.

Pet Topics, produced by the Homeless Animal Rescue Team (HART) appears quarterly and is special to The Cambrian. Visit HART at 2638 Main St. or phone 927-7377 for more information.