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First Responders Learn How To Handle Animals During Emergencies

Evening Edition

Emergency responders are trained to deal with injured people in accident situations, but that training rarely extends to animals. But first responders got a taste of animal care training at the Del Mar Fairgrounds Wednesday.

As people found out during San Diego's wildfires in 2003 and 2007, animals can be difficult to handle in emergency situations. However, handling a large animal at an accident scene or wildfire can go a long way toward calming the chaos.

"There's a likelihood that there could be a trailer that could be involved in an accident. And could have a fire department that is responding to such an emergency, because when 911 is called, those are the folks that are going to respond in addition to law enforcement," said Tony Hernandez of CAL FIRE.

Many times an animal control officer is not the first on the scene. It's a firefighter, who's trying to get a scared animal into a trailer. A little bit of training can go a long way because animals already give people clues about how they want to be handled.

"His ears are just in a resting position," said John Madigan, doctor of veterinary medicine at UC Davis, as he touched a horse's neck. "His ears are not saying, if you touch me I'll kick you or bite you, so I'm going to approach at this angle that's a safe spot for the horse and make some contact with him."

First responders need to be able to read the situation and let the animal tell them the best course of action.

"Keep control of him, and off we go to the safe location," said Madigan. "So that's what we're trying to accomplish. Something easy and approachable. If he doesn't want to do this or bolts or gets away from me, now I've got a problem."

Madigan offers several strategies depending on the situation. Some involve shooing or leading the animal to safety. This training is designed for people who don't normally work with large animals. UC Davis officials hope to be able to train all first responders in California, but funding is an issue.

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