When Judi Derksen was a little girl growing up in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, her dream was to open a pet shelter for all the homeless animals there. Now living near Alberta, Canada, her dreams have become a necessity. With wildfires raging across the area, her local animals need her more than ever.
The Chuckegg Creek Fire has now burned over 130,000 hectares, or more than 500 square miles! More than 5,000 people have been evacuated from the town of High Level. And countless numbers of wild and domestic animals are battling to survive in the chaos. Fortunately, Judi’s barn has been transformed into a haven for a number of them. Her childhood dream of helping animals has now become a reality.
With more than a dozen wildfires burning across Alberta, hundreds of square mile of land is being decimated.
The images of the smoke rolling in from afar are certainly apocalyptic. Residents rushed to grab irreplaceable belongings when the mandatory evacuation orders came in. But with warm temperatures, no rain in the future and gusty winds, it quickly turned life-threatening.
Firefighters and EMT’s from near and far have come to lend a hand. Evacuation centers and animal shelters are doing everything they can to help. As of Tuesday morning, the reports were shocking.
- There are 154 structural firefighters that continue to establish and maintain structural protection on homes in the Town of High Level and on other critical values at risk within Mackenzie County.
- Alberta Wildfire has 360 firefighters along with 28 helicopters on this fire. There are more resources arriving daily.
- The town of High Level was successfully evacuated as of 10:00 p.m. May 20, 2019.
- Firefighters have completed a successful controlled burn technique to create a containment boundary along highway 35 south of High Level, highway 58 west of High Level and the fire perimeter, as weather conditions allowed firefighters to do so.
But in this community, even the citizens are willing to help their neighbors anyway they can during the wildfires.
When the residents began to flee, as with many wildfires, some family pets were unable to be found. Within the chaos, they may have chosen to hide or for those who are indoor/outdoor, they also ran. Now the daunting task of catching, trapping and/or rounding them up could begin as others battled the blaze.
Crystal McAteer, Mayor of High Level, addressed the inquiries of the town’s elderly and the furry-residents on the town’s Facebook page.
I am concerned about the pets some people left at home, in their garages and back yards, when they evacuated. We have volunteers who can check on your pets and ensure they are safe, watered and fed.
Please contact the town of High Level at 780 926-2201 to register, tell us where the seniors are located or indicate if you left a pet behind. I look forward to providing a further update on the situation tomorrow.
When the Judi and her husband Jeff heard the plea, they were quick to reach out to help. They contacted the town coordinators, offering some empty space in their barn and numerous unused cages.
The Derksen’s residence is now home to 13 cats who’ve escaped the “Chuckegg Creek Wildfire”.
Emergency crews rescued the felines and brought them to the Derksen barn. To allow for more refugees, the family was able to pair up some cats who got along. They seemed to take comfort in a familiar soul during the wildfire. For feedings, the similar sizes and ages of some cats help to ensure they are all fed accordingly. Any cats that require medication are being treated to be sure no one misses any doses.
All the cats received a vet checkup and thankfully none were injured in the wildfires. They were more spooked than anything, which is completely understandable.
Each crate has the information on the cats noted as well. This includes the location in which they were found or the address of their owners. They believe they have a mix of some strays and some house cats.
For the displaced families, many are in locations that do not allow animals. So a few of the cats in Judi’s barn were brought in by these families in need. Until the evacuation orders are lifted, they cannot be with their pets. So they can at least do the next best thing–visit the barn, knowing their cats are being cared for.
With the limited space and clashing personalities of 13 cats, Judi has devised a schedule for the felines.
We have a few very dominant male cats that have been trying to pick fights. And it’s been one of the biggest challenges. But by allowing each cat time out of the cages, they can release their energy and eliminate some aggression.
For example, Judi starts her day around 7:30 a.m. by “freeing” some of the cats. They eat their breakfasts, get meds and happy play time while Judi cleans the cages and changes their water. Under the circumstances and space limitations, they all have rotating access to the litter boxes, but they’ll adjust accordingly if any issues arise. So far, so good!
After that cage is clean, it’s on to the next, and the next, and the next, until well into the evening. This continues each day as she goes about her regular life as mom too. Not an easy task in itself before throwing over a dozen cats and a wildfire in the mix!
I am also a mother to two little girls, a one year old and a 4 year old. They keep me very busy and are also a great help with the animals. They love having all these animals in our barn and play with them all day!
You can see her that 4-year-old daughter Annistyn is happy to help her mom out with the “tempurrary” residents. Think she is going to follow in her mom’s footsteps regarding her childhood dreams of helping animals?! We sure do.
Once the wildfire has been extinguished and the evacuation lifted, the animals will rejoin their families.
If they were strays, they will ideally find a forever home that they can live the rest of their lives in. Until that day arrives, they are safe in the Derksen’s barn.
The family hasn’t taken on any donations even though others have offered. However when a family has to drop their cat off, they’ve brought the necessities with them. If possible, this is a great benefit since it will provide their own scent on items, leading to more comfort.
The Derksen’s are doing this for the animals. Not for fame, not for money and not for recognition.
But in this case, we think they deserve all the recognition and praise we can give them. It’s the everyday animal lovers like them that can REALLY make a difference for even just one animal. And this isn’t the first time they’ve helped animals that have crossed their path.
We have two cats who were strays that we found last fall. We took them in during the winter and they have decided to stay with us.
And we recently adopted a stray pup named “Lady”. She was used for breeding, but now she is past her prime and her previous owners didn’t want her anymore.
If that wasn’t heartwarming enough, Judi shared with us what she and her mother discussed as the rescued cats began arriving.
When I told my mom what we were doing to help the evacuees and that I was caring for these pets, she said “your childhood dream has finally come true”.
Thank you to all the firefighters, emergency crews, volunteers and anyone involved in battling the Chuckegg Creek wildfire. News reports now are saying that it is officially larger than the entire city of Calgary! Be safe out there!
If you would like to follow the latest news and updates, please like the Town of High Level facebook page. Evacuees are advised to call 1-833-334-4630 for information.
REMEMBER: ADOPT, DON’T SHOP, MICROCHIP YOUR PETS & SPAY AND NEUTER!
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