Public Safety

On the boat, in the water, saving furry lives

Johnson County emergency responders practice animal water rescue

Nicki Brogden, a volunteer with Iowa City Animal Services, operates a rescue boat during a session on boat handling skills as part of training on slack water animal rescue on the Iowa River near Mid River Marina in North Liberty on Sunday, August 19, 2018. Brogden had not driven a boat prior to the first day of the two day training. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Nicki Brogden, a volunteer with Iowa City Animal Services, operates a rescue boat during a session on boat handling skills as part of training on slack water animal rescue on the Iowa River near Mid River Marina in North Liberty on Sunday, August 19, 2018. Brogden had not driven a boat prior to the first day of the two day training. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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A group of Iowa animal welfare and emergency response experts added flood rescue skills to their disaster preparedness arsenals over the weekend.

Johnson County Emergency Management, Iowa City Animal Services and the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals teamed up Saturday and Sunday for a lifesaving slack water animal rescue training in Johnson County.

Iowa City Animal Services supervisor Liz Ford said the workshop is part of a push that began after the 2008 flood to increase disaster response and animal rescue training.

“We all became very aware of what we needed to do for the future to be prepared,” Ford said.

ASPCA disaster response senior director Dick Green said Iowa’s history with flooding makes it a high-priority state for flood-focused disaster response training.

“Look at statistically and presidentially declared disasters, and more specifically at the floods. Iowa is number two, just behind Arkansas,” Green said.

The workshop opened with basic safety instruction at the Swisher Fire Department before moving Saturday afternoon to on-the-water training at Mid River Marine at Coralville Lake.

Green said trainees would finish the weekend knowing how to operate a boat and “comfortable in how to capture an animal that is in the water, either using a device or their hands, how to get that animal into a crate, how to get it to the shore so they can be triaged and stabilized and the basic principles of how to move that animal back to the shelter.”

Animal Services and Johnson County Emergency Management worked with the ASPCA about a year ago to offer a one-day basic emergency animal rescue training for members of Animal Services’ all-volunteer Animal Response Team. After that, Ford said, a training in slack water rescue was the next logical step.

The 33 people who signed up for the weekend workshop included fire rescue experts, Animal Services employees, members of the Animal Response Team and at least one veterinarian.

George Hospodarsky, a member of the Animal Response Team, said he’d like to see similar workshops in the future.

Hospodarsky has been volunteering with Animal Services and the Iowa City animal shelter for at least 10 years, so he already has some experience wrangling panicked animals. But, he said, the slack water training gave him a chance to get more comfortable with water rescues, which are becoming more common in Iowa.

The number of flood-related presidential disaster declarations in Iowa per decade has increased, from three between 1951 and 1960, to 15 between 2011 and 2017.

Green said it is important to build and connect groups of emergency responders as disasters become more common, so they are ready when the next one hits.

l Comments: (319) 368-8514; molly.hunter@thegazette.com

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