© Photo special to The Guardian
P.E.I. native Stephanie McQuaid, pictured with her dogs Minote and Gemini, was kept busy last month saving many pets during the flood in High River, Alberta. McQuaid is a volunteer with Heaven Can Wait Animal Rescue.
Stephanie McQuaid describes herself as a “huge animal freak.’’
She just loves cats, dogs and other critters.
McQuaid, the general manager of a lingerie store, lives in Okotoks, Alberta, roughly 15 minutes north of High River, where she has been a volunteer for Heaven Can Wait Animal Rescue for the past three years.
When High River residents were forced out of their homes last month by devastating flood waters, McQuaid, a native of Bedford, P.E.I., was quick to dive in to help rescue their pets.
On June 21, the very next morning after the flood, she rushed into High River with her friend and fellow animal lover, Ashleigh Moore, to rescue as many pets as possible. The immense damage caused by rushing, rising water was jolting.
McQuaid, 29, saw boats lying in the middle of the street and cars in a field. There was even a truck on top of a fire hydrant. She also came across military personnel and RCMP officers patrolling the streets.
Still, she remained undeterred from the task at hand: get animals out fast, and come back for more.
“House by house we would enter, and the devastation was incredible — inches of mucky silt, basements full to the ceiling of water, furniture moved from the water rushing through,’’ says McQuaid.
“It was as though we were on the set of a movie. Never would you think it was someone’s home that they lived in. It broke my heart to see what the water had done to these homes and know that these people would come back and see this, and (have to) clean it up.’’
Her spirits rose, though, at the sight of a cat sitting on a window sill or in hearing the “sweet, sweet sound’’ of a dog barking. Signs of living pets put a true pep in her step.
McQuaid rescued so many felines in a frantic six days of search and capture that she became quite the cat wrangler.
“I can find those little buggers, put them into a crate and rush them to their owners pretty quick now,’’ she says.
She and Moore spent 20 minutes calming a pitbull, who was not too friendly at first, before getting the beautiful animal out of the house where the dog warmed to a cuddle and belly scratch.
Among the many dramatic encounters, McQuaid rescued a dog that had broken out of a crate that clearly had been full of water at one point.
She heard stories of rescuers going into homes where dogs were still alive in flooded basements, floating on top of the rising waters on a mattress or even their own dog bed.
“We had even found a tortoise still in his aquarium in the basement, alive,’’ she says.
“There have been all kinds of animals that had been rescued other than the obvious dogs and cats,’’ she adds.
“We had rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, snakes, bearded dragons, geckos, chinchillas, hedgehogs and lots of birds: parrots, budgies, cockatiels, chickens.’’
McQuaid says hundreds of animals have been through the doors of Heaven Can Wait Animal Rescue following the flood. The pets have been fed and kept safe as owners were contacted to pick them up.
For the first six days after the flood hit, she was in and out of High River, going house to house looking to round up pets while also keeping an eye out for animals just running loose. At one point, she followed search teams consisting of RCMP officers, army troops and a cadaver dog team to see if they were finding any animals that needed to be rescued or to be just left food and water for a few days.
“Some residents are allowed back in their homes, but what has happened, because of human rescue efforts, some doors and windows were left open or broken, so animals that were not able to be rescued or were hiding when rescuers came, have escaped,’’ notes McQuaid.
“So they are still showing up at HCW everyday.’’