Iowa City Animal Shelter launches Animal Response Team - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa City Animal Shelter launches Animal Response Team

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

To better combat animal-related emergencies, the Iowa City Animal Shelter has launched a volunteer-based "Animal Response Team."

Shelter officials say no other similar program exists in Johnson County.

"It takes our current volunteer base and gives them a higher level of skill and training. So that, when a disaster or emergency type situation happens, we can call on them to come and assist us," Animal Center Supervisor, Liz Ford, said.

The team will respond to emergency situations from dealing with natural disasters to smaller scale situations, such as dealing with a deer being stuck on ice.

"We could get a call that maybe we have a deer out on the ice and we need a couple of extra bodies to help us try and save the animal," she said.

The animal shelter has had first hand experience in dealing with disasters. In 2008, they set up emergency housing for pets during the floods before, and after, being flooded out themselves.

"There were over 300 animals from the community that couldn't go with their people because of whatever living situation they were, they needed a place they could temporary stay until they could get them back," Ford said.

The teaching lesson of the 2008 floods was how important communication is in dealing with emergency situations. 

"The management of so many more animals and thinking about cleaning animals everyday and making sure they're healthy and they're safe and no one is getting hurt and they're not being housed together," Ford said. "So it's a lot to manage and think about."

The team aims to becoming better prepared for dealing with similar situations in the future.

"We already have a staff that is very knowledgeable, well trained, well versed, and knows what to do but again it's those extra hands," Ford said. "So, by bringing in some of these volunteers and bringing them up to that level, think we'll be able to respond more efficiently and effectively and keep things low-stress for the animals."

It's not all about dealing with disasters, Ford says. In past their have been situations that needed extra hands such as, rounding up domesticated ducks that were left at a park.

"[A] day like today, we have one officer on duty and if we got a call and she needed help, I would probably go. If we needed more than two people I would start calling people on that list," Ford said.

Iowa City Animal Shelter is a municipal of the Iowa City Police Department and responding to animal hoarding situations is also common and something volunteers on the response team would also assist in.

"Animal hoarding is a disaster in itself. Unfortunately, it's complex and involves mental illness and often times severe neglect of animals," Ford said.

She said if they feel animals are in danger, they work with authorities. 

"Many times those calls come down to education, someone needs to know about spay and neuter assistance and how to get that done. They need to know about the proper ways to house animals and pet care," she says.

That's one example of how the response team aims to also help educate the community. Another, is getting people prepared on how to deal with their animals in the event of an emergency or disaster.

In order to become a member of the response team, people must first become an active and trained volunteer through the Animal Care and Adoption Center. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and complete online and in-person training.

An extensive workshop will be hosted on Saturday, April 8, 2017 by the Iowa City Animal Services and Johnson County Emergency Management for disaster preparedness and will be presented by ASPCA, a national disaster response organization. The workshop is open to volunteers and interested members of the public, but space is limited.

Preregistration for the workshop is required by March 27. To register, email icacactraining@gmail.com.

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