Source: CBC (Extract)
Posted: August 17, 2023

Pet owners fleeing Yellowknife as wildfires approach the N.W.T.’s capital are facing logistical challenges bringing their pets along — and time is running out. The territory has told everyone to leave by noon on Friday.

Yellowknife resident Céline Dewez decided to leave on Tuesday, a day before the official evacuation order came in. She made the trip with River, her 15-month-old dog, and a friend who also has a dog.

“I could not find any travel crate anywhere so she would not have been able to evacuate by plane, before they decided to evacuate dogs just on leash,” Dewez said. “That’s why I decided to evacuate Tuesday evening.”

Guidelines for evacuees with pets were posted to the territorial government’s public safety page later Wednesday night. Pets are allowed on all flights — with some rules. All pets must be crated on commercial airlines, the territory said.

“On Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft, pets should be crated whenever possible. If crates are not available, cats must be harnessed, dogs must be leashed and both must be held as close as possible at all times. Other pets must be contained in appropriate cages.”

The decision to allow pets on a leash rather than to push for mandatory crates is a relief for residents who were having trouble finding cages.

Several crates sent to Yellowknife

Veterinarians Without Borders and the NWT SPCA are currently gathering and distributing pet food and crates to those in need, as well as helping with evacuation.

“Every crate in town was bought out,” Dr. Michelle Tuma, a Veterinarian without Borders based in Yellowknife, said in a statement. “It’s chaotic here.”

Marieke Van Der Velden, who works with Veterinarians without Borders, said it became almost impossible to find crates in Yellowknife over the last few days.

“Our focus the last few days has been on sourcing as many crates as possible to get those shipped to Yellowknife,” she said.

Van Der Velden said around 70 cages were sent to Yellowknife through Canadian North on Wednesday night and were distributed Thursday at Sir John Franklin High School.

“About half of those were purchased. And the other half was provided through the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society,” she said.

Travelling with a pet

Dewez was concerned about finding a proper crate, but she was also worried fires would reach the road on the way to Alberta.

The 10-hour road trip to Fort Nelson, northeast of British Columbia, wasn’t an easy one.

“We were both struggling to breathe for … the first part of the journey and the dogs did not like each other,” she said.  “So my friend had her small dog on her legs and in the passenger seat the whole time.”

“I was very focused on the drive, I could not see more than five or 10 meters ahead of my car. And we were choking, literally choking on smoke. My friend was making sure that her dog was still conscious.”

Fort Smith resident Caitlin Seymour is among several pet owners who are still trying to find a way to evacuate their furry loved ones to Edmonton or Calgary. 

“I was already out of town but my sister evacuated and didn’t have room for both dogs in her vehicle,” she wrote in an email to Radio-Canada. 

Seymour said the dogs were left with her dad who had to be evacuated from Fort Smith to Yellowknife earlier this week. 

“Thankfully he was able to bring both dogs with him, but now Yellowknife is evacuating too! Initially we got spots on a plane out of Yellowknife on Sunday, but now my dad and another sister are trying to drive down so we can finally be reunited with our dogs. It’s been a long and stressful week of watching from afar.”

People are also asking for help on the NWT Wildfire Pets Reunited Facebook page, finding pets that have run away or been lost since the beginning of the wildfires across the territory.