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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: September 27, 2018

The Storm and the Critters

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

I am a bit of a weather junkie, and I watch and read a lot about the devastating impact of Hurricane Florence on the Carolinas. My heart goes out, as always, to those who have been killed, and their families, most of all. (The current death toll is around three dozen but initial counts of fatalities are always inaccurate, and that number is bound to go higher.) My next sympathies are for those who have had their homes destroyed or severely damaged; and then those whose businesses and livelihoods have been impacted.

But after these most pressing human concerns, I always feel awful for the animals. Not just the wildlife; and not just the abandoned pets; but also the animals and birds referred to as "stock" " cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, and domestic fowl.

The internet is full of Florence-related heart-wrenching video of kind people rescuing puppies swimming in a torrent; cats soaked and clinging to a log, and six hounds abandoned in a locked kennel, standing in water already half-way up their bodies. God bless all the kind people who have saved suffering creatures, whether their acts of mercy were observed by others, or not.

But buried in the news was another statistic that sent me back to re-read the paragraph that I found so stunning: more than 5,500 pigs and nearly one and a half a million chickens were known to have drowned " secured in high-volume confinement "factory farm" cages or pens. We won't be seeing any video of that, I am sure. But it troubles me that these animals, even though they were eventually destined for slaughter, died after being abandoned. The article explained that some higher-value animals were trucked to safer locations before the storm, but that the rest would be an "insurance claim."

I would be tempted, very tempted, to open cage and pen doors and release such animals " although most probably would have died anyway, at least they would have had some chance, like the wildlife, of using their instincts to save themselves.

A few years before we left Oklahoma, I got a call that oil field workers, welding despite a drought-related hot work ban, had ignited a field upwind of our house. I drove home as fast as I safely could and my daughter and I crated our cats, loaded them in the car and put the dogs on leashes. Then I haltered our two horses, and began leading them to a neighbor's house that was likely out of the path of the fast moving fire. Our dear neighbor saw what I was doing and met me on the road, taking the horses to safety at his house. After throwing a few keepsakes in my trunk I turned my attention to my next door neighbor's situation.

He worked a 45 minute drive away and was unaware of the fire. He had more than 20 horses, most of which were not halter broken or accustomed to handling. I called his cell phone, and shocked him with the news that his house was directly in the line of a fire. Although we had ten fire trucks parked on the road in front of our homes, there was no guarantee they could stop the fire from jumping the road into our front yards. I informed him I was going to cut his fences if it looked like that was going to happen, and give his horses a chance to escape.

As you can imagine, he had a hard time processing this unexpected and terrible news. "Can't you put my horses in your barn?" he asked. I explained there was no time for me to manage that, and no guarantee the barn would be safe either, nor did I have time to try and comfort or reassure him. I just told him to drive safely on his way back, and that I'd call to update him if I had to get in my car and flee myself.

As it turned out the fire was stopped just short of the road, and I didn't have to cut his fences. But given the situation, that's what I would want someone to do for my horses, or any of my pets, if I was not there to do it myself.

For the people of the Carolinas, disposing of millions of animal carcasses will be a difficult task. Care will have to be taken not to contaminate waterways and wells; and animal confinement facilities will have to be completely and carefully sanitized to clean up after this disaster. Massive waste lagoons associated with these facilities have, in some cases, breached and dumped countless gallons of concentrated waste into rivers and creeks. These high-efficiency farms are a boon for inexpensive meat for us; but it certainly looks like their disaster plans are inadequate. And if I lived in the Carolinas, I would be pretty tempted to take my wire cutters and liberate a few animal prisoners if their owners abandoned them, trapped with no escape as a dangerous hurricane approached.

Appreciate and support your local small, family farmers. Their connection with their land and animals is much stronger, and my belief is they are more likely to allow their animals a fighting chance for survival when disaster strikes.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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