How Animals Are Being Rescued from Colorado Flooding

Colorado has recently been devastated by flood waters. President Obama has declared this flooding to be a "major disaster." Historic flooding has ravaged the state, from remote mountain towns to the eastern plains. Days of almost constant rain swelled the riverbanks and streams, causing rushing water to crash into bridges, over highways, and through people's homes and businesses. Seven lives have been lost, 143 people are still missing, 5,350 people have been evacuated, and 1,918 square miles have been affected. Entire towns have been washed away.

Yet, in the chaos of this natural disaster, miracles are occurring.

The efforts of rescuers are heroic. Lives have been saved. People are already coming together and rebuilding destroyed communities. Helpers are coming forth to provide food, clothing, services, and shelter for families that have been displaced. And the animals are not forgotten. Organizations such as Colorado Disaster Wildfire/Flood Lost and Found Pets, Fort Collins Cat Rescue, Northern Colorado Friends of Ferals, and many local veterinary clinics have stepped up to keep animals safe and to reconnect lost pets with their owners.

But what happens to that herd of horses or cattle standing in the pasture? Most ranchers have one, maybe two trailers. Cattlemen and horsemen typically haul their herds in batches. Anyone who has moved livestock knows that it is not a process that can be rushed. So who do they call when disaster strikes? The volunteer organization Fleet of Angels helps provide large animal transportation, pasturing, and feed. Mankind at its finest; these people are angels, indeed.

Most of us aren't prepared for disaster. Dr. Naomi Hoyer, a Fort Collins veterinarian, said, "One of the biggest issues from this flood has been with pets in remote areas. People are stranded in their locations and don't have enough pet food and medications on hand. For people that have been helicoptered out, we have encountered problems with a lack of leashes for big dogs and carriers for all of the small pets. A lot of people in these remote mountain areas never need these simple items before a disaster."

Related: 21 heroic photos of firefighters rescuing animals

You can also visit 9News to learn more about disaster preparation for your pets.

Storm Mountain Evacuation

Celeste Guerrero and her husband, Robert, own a mountain home in the Cedar Springs Community in Drake. All of the roads leading to towns with provisions had been obliterated by the raging North Fork and Big Thompson Rivers. They had to make a quick decision about exiting when helicopters became available to them. Because of waning provisions and their six pets, including two English Mastiffs weighing 180 and 210 pounds, they chose to be air lifted to Fort Collins. Celeste spoke of her experience in a Chinook helicopter with her husband, two Mastiffs, a French Bulldog, two cats and two birds, "We were uncertain if it would even work. Our neighbors were unable to load their Wolfhounds. If the Mastiffs refused to go, there was nothing we could do."

Celeste went on to describe the chaos of having the animals around a helicopter, "It was loud, like some combination between a tornado and a train. There were rocks and debris flying everywhere. The back of the helicopter was open the entire time. Matilda, my youngest Mastiff, was very scared, but we loaded every animal with the help of our neighbors."

Celeste and Robert handed their house keys to their neighbors with the Wolfhounds. "They had only lived next door for three months," Celeste said, "and we didn't know them very well, but I wanted them to take whatever they needed for themselves and their animals from our house."

The estimations for rebuilding and reopening the damaged highways have been everything from three months to a year.

Celeste reflected on her disaster experience with her pets, "My lifesaver was that my animals are socialized and well-behaved. They were trained and that was a huge benefit in such a stressful time."

Operation Sled Dog Rescue

Michaela Maddalena was evacuated from her home in the Big Thompson canyon at 1:30 a.m. Thursday morning with a reverse 911 call. She escaped up the canyon to Estes Park. Unfortunately, the intense rainfall affected the St. Vrain Canyon as well, destroying Highway 36, where Michaela housed her five sled dogs at her grandfather's property. Before all phone service was lost, she was able to contact a neighbor to feed her dogs. However, the condition of the roads was only worsening, with no access from either direction. It took some time to get clearance from the National Guard to access her grandfather's property. Michaela said, "We finally got clearance Monday morning and four of us threw on packs and hiked to the property."

When Michaela and her crew finally reached Tob, Tornado, Abbie, Denali, and Dreamer, they were overcome with relief. Michaela said, "It was a bittersweet, surreal moment finally cresting that hill where we were able to see the dogs. They were happy to see us."

Michaela proceeded to carry 15 year old Dreamer on her shoulders during the hike out.

Michaela said, "Those dogs are my family. People and sled dogs have a really strong bond. You have to trust each other. If something goes bad out on the trail, you have to rely on each other to get out of the situation."

Michaela's dogs are currently safe and dry. They are being housed at a pet lodge in Estes Park.

If you would like to assist Colorado in regaining its strength after the devastation from flooding, click here.

-By Johi Kokjohn-Wagner

For incredible images of animals being rescued from the Colorado flooding, visit Babble!

16 reasons why cats are better than people
7 ways to give back to your local animal shelter
20 adorable photos of dogs giving their best "puppy eyes"