News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Training to keep animals safe

A hot and dry start to July has put us under Stage 1 fire restrictions: no campfires, wood stoves, charcoal grills, or fireworks on most Central Oregon public lands.

Agencies and organizations are practicing for the inevitable. The Pet Evacuation Team (PET) held a mock deployment on Saturday to teach volunteers how to help animals during disasters.

The nonprofit visited Harmony Farm Sanctuary, a 10-acre shelter off Fryrear Road outside Sisters. It's home to dozens of rescued farm animals.

"We've got horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, alpacas, a llama, a cat, lots of pigs, rabbits, geese, ducks, chickens, and turkeys," said Robine Bots, founder and executive director of Harmony Farms Sanctuary, whose own nonprofit played host.

Sanctuary volunteers, five of whom double as PET volunteers, opened the gate for PET's heavy-duty pickup towing a trailer full of equipment and instructions for volunteers to carry out.

"What they're learning to do right now is how to build a dog yard," explained PET Executive Director Vikki Sheerer. "They just learned how to put in T-posts."

"Because the animals are kept in crates, every two hours they're taken out, fed and walked, and then put back into the crates," Sheerer explained. Ron Weasley, an orange tabby cat who has his own office at Harmony, was volunteered to be placed in a covered crate and carried away.

Photo by Matt Van Slyke

"Pig boards" are used to direct animals away from danger - and to protect humans from being run into by big pigs

Dozens of PET volunteers broke into groups: horses and pigs; chickens, goats, sheep, alpacas, and llama; intake/release; and triage. Dr. Stephanie Austin, a Bend-based veterinarian of 12 years, put on a mini-clinic at the triage table, showing how to check vital signs in horses.

Normal respiration rate for horses is roughly a dozen breaths per minute. A wildfire, though, is not normal for horses.

"We're looking for 17 to 37 breaths per minute," Dr. Austin explained. "If you can hold him, then you can use the stethoscope. If you don't know how to use one, use your hand to feel the chest. If he's super panting and his mouth is open, that would be an emergency. I would call the vet."

"When we have a deployment like this, we're going to have a list of vets that are on call," explained Carrie Sether, a PET volunteer of several years. "What you're going to see is animals that might have stress and injuries, coming in from heat, being loaded into that trailer."

Fifty feet away, a mini stampede of goats and sheep moved toward Harmony's Kelly Sheets, who showed one group how to corral the animals in case they're running amok.

Minutes later, outside a chicken coop, Sheets demonstrated proper poultry pick-up technique.

"You want to come at it like a football tackle," said Sheets, approaching a young rooster with her knees bent and arms out. "Close in fast and grab 'em with both hands."

In a pen, Bots demonstrated how to use "pig boards" to direct animals - like Harmony's Pig Floyd or Eleanor Pigby - away from danger. They also protect people from pigs, which can weigh well over 500 pounds "and are much faster than you think," she warned.

When local fire information goes out, telling the public to evacuate pets and large animals to a certain place, PET will be there. "In 2020, during the Santiam fires, we had 97 animals that we took care of for nine days. Unfortunately, most of those animals did not have homes to go back to, so we assisted them with adoption," Sheerer said. PET works alongside local fire departments in three Central Oregon counties.

"We're an all-volunteer organization. Twice a year, we have new-volunteer training: about five hours of procedure, chain of command, that kind of thing," Sheerer explained. "We're a 501(c)(3), as is Robine (Bots), and we exist entirely on donations."

To volunteer and/or donate, visit and/or


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