More Than 600 Animals Rescued From Colo. Fire

June 19, 2013
Cats, cattle, pigs and a parrot are among the more than 600 animals rescued from more than 250 properties in the Black Forest burn area in Colo.

June 19--Animal lovers are among the many heroes of the Black Forest fire.

More than 600 animals -- ranging from cats and cattle to pigs and a parrot -- were rescued from more than 250 properties in the burn area, said Gretchen Pressley, a communications specialist with the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.

While rescue was the initial focus, efforts now center on reunification.

Many organizations have worked tirelessly on the animals' behalf: Jeffco H.E.A.T., Front Range Animal Evacuation Team, Colorado Humane Society, Colorado Equine Veterinary Services and Black Forest Animal Sanctuary -- all partners of the Humane Society -- helped get the animals to safety.

At first, the animals were scattered to myriad locations. The El Paso County Fairgrounds in Calhan, the Elbert County Fairgrounds, the Norris-Penrose Equestrian Center and even the Flying W Ranch opened to house large animals.

The Kit Carson Riding Club took in nearly 75 animals since the start of the fire, said Robert Willis, vice president, including llamas, goats, sheep and chickens. On Saturday, they moved all unclaimed animals to the Calhan fairgrounds and were down to about 30 horses by Monday. Injured animals have been moved to Colorado Equine Veterinary Services.

At one point, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region had 265 animals sheltered from the fire. By Tuesday, the number had dropped to about 80 animals.

Tracy Van Pelt, director of Black Forest Animal Sanctuary, said that shelter has rescued several hundred animals from the Black Forest area.

The Humane Society dispatches the sanctuary's four teams, two to four people each, which have rescued horses, cattle, goats, chickens and pigs, as well as one African Grey Parrot.

At a ranch near Linnwood Lane and Shoup Road, the shelter found two injured steers and a horse suffering burns.

"It was like the one area of the ranch that didn't burn down," Van Pelt said.

The injured horse, Sundance, was one of two mustangs belonging to Judy von Ahlefeldt, 70, who runs Black Forest News. Her other mustang, Monty, did not survive.

Von Ahlefeldt had an hour to pack and lost most everything in the fire, save for her newspaper archives, computer, a dozen stringed instruments, and two cats and two dogs that she put into an RV.

Before leaving, she put her contact information on her horses and let them loose in her pasture with the gate open. The pasture didn't burn, but the trees and field on the other side of the fence did.

Von Ahlfeldt thinks Monty wandered around until he collapsed.

Both horses were found just west of the ranch, Van Pelt said. Sundance is recovering at Colorado Equine Veterinary Services in Peyton.

"I'm OK, I'm just tired. What happens happens," said von Ahlfeldt, who's been living out of a nearly-empty RV since evacuating. "It's sad but I have to move on because there's nothing I can do about it."

Van Pelt of the Black Forest Animal Sanctuary is using social media to try to help pay the vet bill for Sundance.

"I'm proud of our teams because we're doing a very good job of documenting which animals we have," Van Pelt said. The crews get the address where the animals were located, take photos of both the property and the animals and then call the Humane Society, which cross-references the information with calls they've received.

The work has reunited many owners with their pets and livestock.

If an owner can't initially be found, some animals have been sent to Dr. Clinton Unruh at Colorado Equine Veterinary Services in Peyton. Unruh opened his clinic to injured fire animals, and vets from other areas have come to help.

Also working tirelessly on the animals' behalf has been Cindy McKeon of Peyton. Last Wednesday, the day after the fire exploded, she set up a Facebook page, Black Forest Fire Lost and Found Pets, which now has more than 3,920 likes and 500,000 hits.

"I was overwhelmed. I couldn't believe that many people came on," said McKeon, who manages the page from her iPhone. Once the page reached 1,500 likes, McKeon pulled on two more administrators to help her.

Countless lost and missing animals were posted on the page, but as of Tuesday only 37 remained. McKeon expects some will be reunited but adds it is likely that some perished.

McKeon said the Facebook page "turned out to be a clearing house."

"I don't want people sitting and waiting to connect with their animals," she continued.

Pressley of the Humane Society is also hopeful more reunifications will occur.

"As people move back into the area, they're going to be finding more strays," Pressley said. "We're actually going to be doing a lot of reuniting in the weeks to come."

Copyright 2013 - The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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