Judith Sutherland:Rescuing pets from flames is heroic

“Much can be learned about man in the way that he treats animals who cannot speak for themselves, cannot defend their treatment or do much of anything to get even when man fails them.”

- Michael Manto, DVM


When wildfires raged through northeastern Arizona this summer, firefighters and public health officials did everything possible to evacuate families and wage war against 600-foot flames.

In all, around 460,000 acres were destroyed. As people were forced to flee their homes, many left livestock and pets behind.

I had wondered and worried about the animals – who would look out for them?

I found my answer in a People magazine article about a vocational agriculture teacher named Steve Parsons. He and his wife and their 3-year-old son managed to escape the wildfires raging near their home, but he couldn’t stop worrying about his vo-ag livestock left behind.

There were 5,000 quail, partridge, pheasant and chickens left at Mogollon High School in the town of Heber, Ariz., that he couldn’t just leave to die.

Going back. He managed to get special permission from authorities to return and rescue 400 chicks in incubators from the hatchery at the school.

The firefighters learned of this rescue and contacted him with a list of all the other animals that needed to be found and evacuated. For several days, Parsons drove his beat-up pickup truck all around the area. He rescued dogs, cats, ducks, horses and a pair of ostriches who had to be lassoed.

He continued making stops to feed and water stranded pets and livestock even after the fire had let up.

He doesn’t see himself as a hero, but simply as a guy who thought to do something that maybe others might not have thought to do.

Local story. Just this past Wednesday, Cort, Caroline and I went to a little pet store to purchase a couple of new fish for my son’s saltwater aquarium. It is one of Cort’s favorite places to go when he is feeling well enough to enjoy getting out.

We joked with the shop owner and made plans to go back in a week or so to purchase a couple more things. The next afternoon, the pet store was in flames.

The Wooster Daily Record reported that 3,000 small animals were trapped inside the Wooster Pet Store when firefighters arrived on the scene. They worked in incredible heat, fire and smoke to rescue as many fish, birds, lizards, snakes, hamsters and gerbils as they could.

Shop owner Chad Curtis lived in an apartment above the store, so he not only lost his business, but his home and personal belongings as well.

Because of the extreme weather conditions outside and hard work involved inside, several firefighters were treated at the scene for exhaustion. While one group battled the blaze, another group worked hard at rescuing pets trapped inside.

After three hours of hard work, reportedly about 95 percent of the animals survived, with only a few birds and small pets perishing, most likely due to smoke.

None of those firefighters would call themselves heroes. But the rest of us are certainly allowed to.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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