One of the worst moments in my life came about a year and a half ago, when the dam that looms over my town – the largest earthen-filled dam in North America, mind you – was proclaimed in an emergency broadcast to be in danger of imminent failure. I was 20 miles away, perfectly safe, with my younger dog, Woody.
But my husband and my heart dog, Otto, and my son’s dog, Cole, were all at my house, just five short miles downstream of the dam, and three blocks from the river channel that would likely be obliterated by the 3.5 million acre-feet of water behind the dam. My mouth went dry and my heart was pounding as I tried to call my husband. Despite the fact this requires pressing only two buttons, with shaking hands it took me over a minute to make the call.
No answer. No answer. No answer. He had been planning to mow the lawn that afternoon. I could just picture him trudging back and forth with the mower and then the string trimmer, phone in the house. I practically screamed at his voice mail. “Brian, grab the dogs and get into the truck and get out of town! NOW!” I sobbed. I sent him texts, too, and paced in circles, trying to catch my breath. THINK, Nancy, I told myself.
I finally reached him by calling each of my neighbors, and asking them to please go yell at him as they packed their cars and tell him to pick up his phone. He finally did look at the phone, and only when he saw my panicked texts did he realize he had been seeing a lot of police cars and fire trucks going up and down the streets of our town. Don’t get me started about men who can focus on only one thing at a time.
As it happens, we were more or less prepared for the several-day evacuation that followed. We had filled a pickup truck with our most precious possessions, important paperwork, and spare clothes, and parked it upstream of the dam at a friend’s house. I had leashes and dog beds and dog food in my car. When Brian called me to confirm that he had the dogs and had joined the traffic jam of thousands of people who were ordered out of the way of the potential wall of water, I could finally breathe, safe in the knowledge that we had friends we could stay with out of the way of danger.
As I write this, dozens of friends and acquaintances have been evacuated out of the way of wildfires that are scorching hundreds of thousands of acres in California. Dozens more are volunteering at human and animal shelters, assisting the evacuees. The most prepared victims managed to bring all the members of their human and animal families with them; the less-prepared have had to bring pets to shelters for safe-keeping, and – the tears start rolling down my face as I even think about it – the most unfortunate had to leave pets behind. My heart breaks for them as I check to make sure my own family’s emergency evacuation kit is ready to go. Is yours?