In an emergency, people step up. That was so evident in the Shuswap during this summer’s wildfire emergency. But it’s often not until the crisis has passed that you have time to thank those who helped in so many ways. The CSRD and the Shuswap Emergency Program have many people and organizations to thank. So for the next few weeks, we will feature some of these stories each Monday to help us all start our week on a positive note.
Being evacuated from a wildfire is traumatizing. Being separated from a beloved pet magnifies the anxiety.
Shuswap Emergency Program Coordinator Cathy Semchuk and her team of volunteers have witnessed the effect separation from pets has on evacuees.
When the Bush Creek East Wildfire raged on August 18, many evacuees arrived at the Emergency Support Services Centre located at the Seniors Fifth Avenue Activity Centre in Salmon Arm.
Members of the ESS team immediately began trying to secure pet-friendly rooms for those who arrived with their animals. Semchuk has high praise for the efforts staff at all area hotels made in taking people in. While most opened up already designated pet rooms, the Sure Stay Plus by Best Western decided to make all their rooms pet-friendly.
“Most of the hotels did their best to accommodate pets, but every time I called Best Western, they made more pet friendly rooms available, and they took cats,” Semchuk says. “Keeping their pets gave comfort to people who were traumatized.”
Roberta Rowe, front desk clerk at Best Western, was on the receiving end of many of those calls and was happy to help evacuees get settled.
She says when the hotel’s first-floor, pet-friendly rooms were filled, she and general manager Bill Steacy did not hesitate to open rooms on the second floor. Also, the hotel, which had 56 rooms occupied by evacuees at the height of the crisis, waived the extra $20 per day pet fee.
“We’re pet lovers here,” Rowe said. “We all have pets, they’re family.”
General Manager Bill Steacy agrees. The Blind Bay resident took his own two dogs to work with him and stayed at the hotel for several days after the fire crossed the Trans-Canada Highway.
“We got to know most of the evacuees’ first names,” he said. “Cats were seen lying on the windowsills of their owners’ room, enjoying the sun. And as soon as some of the dogs realized the front door is automatic, they made themselves at home.”
Working with ESS staff was a great experience and staff were happy to help, he says. And, other than a little shedding, the rooms were no worse for wear.
Anita Deeter and her cat, Patches, lost her home in Celista. An area resident for about 30 years, Deeter is grateful to the support she has been receiving from ESS and thrilled volunteers found her a place that would accept her cat during the evacuation.
“I was told the SPCA might have to take Patches, but I would have gone and slept in a tent to be with her,” Deeter says. “Big stars to the staff. You guys have made us happy campers.”
Photo (above) Anita Deeter with her cat, Patches at the Sure Stay Plus by Best Western. (CSRD Photo)