April 25, 2008

Since the inception of the 911 emergency telephone number, more and more people look to local emergency response community members, such as firefighters, rescue squads, police, animal control officers and large animal veterinarians, when large animals get trapped in a variety of situations.

Recently, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service offices in Boone, Kenton and Campbell Counties combined efforts with the Northern Kentucky Horse Network to sponsor large animal rescue training to emergency responders. With additional funding from the Kentucky Equine Education Project, the Kenton, Boone and Campbell County Farm Bureaus, Campbell County Conservation District, Northern Kentucky Cattle Association and the Campbell County Cattle Association they were able to bring in nationally recognized experts in large animal rescue.

“It’s very important for us to be involved as local individuals to work with the leaders and organize a training like this,” said Don Sorrell, agriculture and natural resources extension agent for Campbell County. “As ag agents we are very near and dear to the people we work with, and these animals are extensions of that.”

The three-day, hands-on event drew approximately 60 participants to the Lazy K Ranch near Grants Lick. Husband and wife team Tomas and Rebecca Giminez of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue in South Carolina brought two horses and a llama to demonstrate several rescue techniques. The three are trained demonstration animals that provide real, hands-on experiences for workshop participants.

Paint horse Aerial Painted Pants, affectionately known as just “Aerial,” is a pro at mock water rescue demonstrations. Rebecca Giminez said the horse actually enjoys getting wet for the benefit of training folks to save her. Three participants dressed in wet suits and life vests as they got ready to “rescue” Aerial from the lake at A.J. Jolly Park in Campbell County. Once they were ready and all the equipment was in place, the three participants led the paint horse into the water. They weren’t sure how she would react when her feet no longer touched the bottom of the lake. They seemed surprised when Aerial completely relaxed and floated in a sling constructed on shore, however; Rebecca Giminez said when horses are no longer able to feel the ground under their feet in a water situation, they just “let go” once the emergency equipment is in place. Without the equipment, the horse would be forced to swim or drown.

From there, it was quite simple for the participants to maneuver the horse toward shore.

Not all of the rescue demonstrations use live animals. For instance, when participants are learning to rescue a large animal from mud, the Giminezes use a mock horse made of PVC, a tank filled with water and wooden posts for legs. This allows the participants to take as much time as necessary to learn the techniques without making a live animal uncomfortable.

The Giminezes believe the training is important, and they want the participants to leave the workshop feeling confident and prepared to handle large animal rescue situations.

“(The training is) geared toward large animals which would include anything from a pig to an elephant,” Tomas Giminez said. “The idea is to help the large animal, but the real goal behind it is to save human lives by preventing the loss of human life by doing safe rescues for both the victim and the rescuer.

“What we want to try to avoid is … people who are very well intended and they jump and try to be instant rescuers and they don’t have the training to do it safely, and so they become the victims,” he continued. “That’s why it is just a good idea to have training like this where we have members of a rescue team like fire departments that have the training, and they will respond to large animal calls and avoid people from getting injured or killed.”

Linda Bray-Shafer, president of the Northern Kentucky Horse Network, said northern Kentucky has needed this kind of training for a long time.

“We just want the owners of livestock to know that they don’t have to wait. They can call their fire departments - they want you to call,” she said. “There is a number of emergency management and fire departments that are here today that are learning these new techniques. So call them, don’t hesitate.”

Workshop organizers raised nearly $10,000 to go toward the cost of the training as well as to purchase specialized equipment to aid in large animal rescue in northern Kentucky.