Time and again after major disasters we hear heartrending stories of people unable to save their beloved animals. The Marshall Fire, of December 30, 2021, in Boulder County, Colorado, was no exception.
Dave Crawford was one of the luckier ones. Fortunately, he was home and able to evacuate his two elderly cats as the 100+ MPH wind-driven fire moved towards his neighborhood. The fire would destroy more than 1,000 homes, including his own.
With his cats safely in the car, Dave drove around the block, pounding on the doors of several neighbors in case they were unaware of the impending conflagration. There had been no formal government notifications, even though an active warning siren was located right down the street.
No one answered any of the knocks except at the last home, where Dave heard the barks of Chief, a juvenile German shepherd who was in a crate in the home's kitchen. Chief's barks saved his life. Dave coordinated with his neighbor, Mike, to ensure Chief would be rescued if the home’s owner did not quickly arrive on the scene. It took a kicked-in door, but Mike got Chief to safety.
Tragically, with their guardians on vacation or at work or just out running errands, hundreds – perhaps thousands, when factoring in aquarium and pond fishes – of pets and other dependent animals perished that day.
Dave is the executive director of Animal Help Now, a nationwide nonprofit that helps people help injured and orphaned wildlife. Animal Help Now’s headquarters, in fact, were also lost in the fire, as Dave operated the organization out of his home.
Dave’s experience during the Marshall Fire clearly showed that when disasters threaten, neighbors who are home can help rescue animals whose guardians are away. The Animal Help Now team, composed primarily of volunteers, many of whom live in or near Boulder County, mobilized to put its tech skills to work to develop a neighbors-based app to facilitate such rescues, and PHaR (Pet Help and Rescue) was born.
PHaR is a free app designed to help nearby neighbors evacuate imperiled companion animals when disasters strike. PHaR users can connect with their neighbors (“trusted contacts”) to quickly, easily and effectively request assistance with animals during disasters.
If you have dependent animals, and you are not at home when a disaster strikes, you need a way to quickly and easily alert all of your trusted contacts that you need help.
If any of them are home or near home, they may well be able to help.
The key is communication. During a crisis, you don’t want to be fumbling around for telephone numbers. You don’t want to tap out lengthy messages. Ideally, you want to press a button or two to reach out to the people you trust and provide them with all the information they need to rescue your loved ones.
PHaR also makes it easy to get help in non-emergency situations – such as a delayed plane, a flat tire, a trip to urgent care, and any number of other times when a person unexpectedly cannot make it home to feed the cats or let the dogs out.
PHaR is the only companion animal help and rescue resource developed by and for neighbors, using the knowledge of experts in animal welfare, animal behavior, disasters and emergency services.
Look for PHaR in the Apple App Store and Google Play in the coming weeks. The service will also be available on a web platform soon.