From hedgehogs to actual hogs, evacuees from the Hay River-KFN wildfire had to come up with a plan for their pets. Here’s how two families fared.
It can be hard to evacuate with one pet, let alone many. When Cabin Radio contacted Sharon Moore on Monday, she said she was trying to leave Hay River with up to 10 dogs.
Moore runs a cleaning company in the town. She and her family have seven dogs and four cats. Late on Sunday night, when residents were ordered to evacuate, they loaded the animals into their vehicles and headed to a gas station to fill up before hitting the road.
After a long wait in line, they let the dogs out to pee in an industrial park at around 3am – where they found three more stray dogs.
“They were starving,” Moore said. “You could see every bone.”
With only so much space, Moore said she didn’t know what to do. The family decided to drive the strays back home, leave them in the back yard – where at least they wouldn’t be run over – and then evacuate.
Even with the family and their pets spread across four vehicles, Moore described the situation as cramped.
“I had all our packed stuff in there,” she said. “There were dogs in my arms and I’m driving, so I can’t evacuate like that.”
At some point during the chaos, Moore’s partner had to leave to drive a bus to Yellowknife for evacuees.
“We couldn’t evacuate without him,” Moore said, so she decided to wait at the house with her boys and all the pets.
By now it was Monday. Moore said she had several meltdowns while trying to organize her family, including a father with dementia.
“I was trying to do laundry. I couldn’t even think to wash the dishes. I couldn’t even stand still long enough. I couldn’t even think to brush my teeth. I was standing in my room with a sock in my hand and I was still supposed to be folding and organizing laundry for each person, and I couldn’t think.”
While at home, Moore fed the strays and gave them water and eventually brought them to the SPCA. Due to a lack of space, she also had to leave four guinea pigs, a hedgehog and a spider at home, so she gave them extra food, water and bedding.
When Moore’s partner returned, the family left again with their cats and dogs, along with as many supplies as they could think to stuff into their vehicles.
Moore said it was hard to know where to go with the pets. The evacuation centre in Yellowknife, for example, doesn’t permit them.
“Anyone presenting with pets is being given information on local boarding facilities or organizations that are able to assist with boarding pets,” David Maguire, a spokesperson for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, said via text.
Maguire added that community members have also been stepping up to help board pets, largely through social media.
But Moore said she wouldn’t be able to sleep without her animals. Her family decided to drive to a picnic area near the golf course, about five kilometres outside Hay River.
When Cabin Radio spoke to Moore on Tuesday, the family and their pets were safe and had set up a makeshift camp.
“We’re all just playing fetch in the shade,” she said. “We have a two-pound Chihuahua that’s sitting in the front seat of our vehicle. She has all her food and water, and pee pads all on the foot boards.”
The family also made a home for their cats in the cars, flipping down the back seats and making space for litter in the trunk.
“Stress levels are near none now,” she said.
Staying with the animals has meant the family is now sleeping in vehicles, curled up among the pets.
On Monday night, Moore said her son, who is more than 6 ft tall, slept in the back seat with an 80-lb lab and another dog. Moore slept reclined in the front seat with the Chihuahua on the foot mat of the passenger seat.
She hopes to stay at the picnic area until they can all go home.
“You have to look at the positive,” she said. “We’re all still here.”
Matilda the pig
Scott and Leanne Clouthier evacuated with their eight-year-old pig and cat before the official evacuation order on Sunday night.
Scott, executive director of the Hay River Youth Centre, said he first noticed the wildfire on Sunday afternoon while in the park with friends.
Driving home from a Mother’s Day dinner at 8:30pm, the wind had shifted and pushed the smoke into town. As ash rained down on the car, the situation began to feel more serious.
Around 11pm, after watching the Oilers game, Scott noticed posts on Facebook saying the fire had jumped into town near the airport. He and Leanne decided to pack.
Matilda the pot-bellied pig “weighs somewhere in the range of 170 lb,” he said. “Trying to get her into our vehicle in a hurry is not something that we want to do. We realized that we couldn’t wait till the last minute to get out.”
During last year’s flood-related evacuation, Scott and Leanne kept Matilda at a veterinarian’s clinic in Manning, Alberta. That’s also where Matilda stays when the Clouthiers are out of town.
However, with the wildfire situation in Alberta, Scott said they knew that wouldn’t be an option this time.
Through Facebook, Matilda – or at least, her owners – found a Yellowknife host with an unused large dog kennel in their heated garage. She spent Monday night there.
“What’s neat is they have a little night-vision camera set up in the kennel, so they sent us a video when she got herself tucked away for bed,” Scott told Cabin Radio on his way back from feeding Matilda breakfast on Tuesday morning.
“She’s still in really good spirits,” he said. “Maybe I’ll go pick her up some squishy balls or some little things she could push around with her snout, and hopefully that will keep her occupied and she won’t cause any damage.”
Matilda is not believed to be the first pot-bellied pig to outrun a wildfire. Scott relayed the tale of Marshall, a pig that survived the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires – with an assist from the RCMP – after his owners couldn’t fit him in their vehicle and had to let him go.
That situation weighed heavily on Scott’s mind.
“How heartbreaking would that be, if we had to just set her free and hope for the best?” He said. “So we always wanted to make sure that we were prepared.”
Scott and Leanne are now staying with a friend in Yellowknife. With them is their cat, Phil, who wished it to be known that thanks to Matilda, he rarely gets any attention.