I raised a daughter whose mantra has always been, “Whatever happens, happens.” She had a rough beginning in life and did not join my family until she was a toddler. Between her early childhood trauma and her genetics, she has decided that she has little to no control over how her life unfolds. If she makes no decisions, she isn’t responsible for how things unfold. I tried and tried to convince her that “No decision IS a decision.” I can’t say that I was very successful…
My heart aches for those impacted by Hurricane Ian in Florida. So many people lost so much, and in some cases lost their lives. I have heard criticism leveled at authorities for not providing adequate notice to evacuate. The response of those officials has been that they did provide plenty of notice… but so many people chose to ignore the warnings. They had become complacent because of previous warnings that ultimately didn’t impact them. They did not make the decision to leave… and some of them paid the ultimate price.
I am in the process of writing up our recent trip and I had a post ready to go. However, I felt compelled to address my frustration at the complacency and lack of personal responsibility that some people exhibit. I know this statement has great potential to alienate and anger people. Perhaps, if you are one of those people that has a strong negative reaction to my viewpoint, you might evaluate if you are, in fact, ready, willing, and able to take personal responsibility for your decisions and how those decisions impact you, your family, your animals, and your property.
Alan and I do not live in an area prone to hurricanes. However, we own homes in two areas heavily impacted by wildfires. We had a grass fire burn the home next door to our home in Arizona. We have personally evacuated our mountain home due to the threat of the Cameron Peak wildfire.
I will never forget the relief and appreciation reflected on the faces of the two sheriffs who showed up at the door of our Colorado home at 9:15 PM the night before we evacuated. They saw the hooked-up horse trailer. They knew that we were not going to be among the folks who stayed behind and relied upon emergency services to rescue us if we made a poor decision.
There is only one way off of our mountain. We needed to have a plan, and we had one. The bridge to Sanibel Island is gone. What did the folks who stayed on the island plan to do if the worst case scenario happened?
Earlier this summer, I attended a clinic sponsored by several organizations in the Boulder County area tasked with rescuing people and animals during an emergency event. While they did a fabulous job of being “politically correct” in their presentation, their message was clear:
With some wildfires, such as the Cameron Peak fire, residents have some advance warning and time to react. In other wildfires, such as the Marshall fire, entire neighborhoods were lost in a single afternoon. The Boulder clinic was held as a result of the lessons learned from the Marshall fire. The clinic presenters were begging local residents to learn from that fire and have a plan for future emergencies.
According to the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, Florida ranks as the third largest equine state in the United States. Wildfires are not a primary threat in Florida, but hurricanes clearly are a huge risk. With hurricanes, there is always a significant advance warning.
I heard that Florida’s governor told residents as early as 3-4 days before the hurricane hit that anyone living on the west coast of the state should consider evacuating. Apparently, emergency shelters opened that same day in the counties that were heavily damaged. Whereas more than 34,000 people sought shelter during Hurricane Irma, only 5000 people did so in advance of Hurricane Ian.
If Florida is the third largest equine-populated state in our country, how many horses, donkeys, goats, pigs, cattle, and other livestock were left to fend for themselves? How many dogs, cats, and other companion animals were lost as homes filled with water?
I heard an incredibly sad story on the news that told of three friends who stayed behind to ride out the storm. One man was severely compromised by Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died when the home was filled with water and his friends were unable to save him even as they saved themselves. But I have to ask… Why did they not evacuate?
The first blog I wrote in 2022 is titled, What is Your Risk Tolerance? Alan and I would be the first to admit that our willingness to risk life, limb and our pursuit of happiness is very low. We are leading a fairy tale life. We are doing everything we can to avoid a tragedy of any kind. Certainly, there are many, many things over which we have no control. But there are many things we can do to mitigate those risks and reduce our losses.
We were on the road in the Midwest when the Cameron Peak fire exploded and reached our mountain. The only things I potentially grieved were the quilt I made my parents for their 50th Anniversary and the book set I created for their 60th. Everything else was replaceable. But would I have risked my life to hang on to those “irreplaceable” items? Of course not!
As I am writing this, the television is on. The news commentator interviewed Kevin Anderson, the Mayor of Fort Meyers, Florida. The commentator pressed the mayor as to whether or not the evacuation order was issued “soon enough.” Specifically, she said, “Do you think lives could have been saved if the evacuation order was issued on Monday instead of a day later on Tuesday?” This was his response:
I don’t think it would have made a difference, because we start pushing hurricane awareness in June. We push people to have a plan, to have a plan for evacuation if need be. You know if you plan, you don’t panic. The most predictable thing about a hurricane is that it is unpredictable. So until people learn to follow the advisory and not wait until it is too late… that is what will save lives.
The commentator’s response was, “I understand, I hear you, but obviously in June it is still abstract, I mean all of these warnings are abstract until you see it bearing down on you!” (Note that hurricane season starts in June, so it shouldn’t be such an abstract concept at that point…) She pressed again as to whether or not the warnings should have been “more urgent.”
The definition of abstract is existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence. Do you think, after seeing what happened with Hurricane Ian, that more people will understand the physical and concrete existence of a hurricane risk? Will their risk tolerance change?
The mayor responded to the concept of an “abstract risk” with the following words:
We started talking about this storm right from the very beginning. It was going to hit Tampa, and as I said, storms are unpredictable and people have to take accountability for themselves and plan accordingly. Until we can get people to do that, we are still going to face this loss of lives because people don’t pay attention.
Soon after that interview, the commentator talked to a physician who was providing emergency services to the folks who were in such dire straits. Babies still decide to make their appearance, regardless of what else is happening. Unbelievably, the physician said that some people were going back to the devastated areas, in spite of the fact that they had no food, no water, no electricity, and many health risks. Why? What are they expecting to accomplish?
The last interview I will share was with Jim Atterholt of Fort Meyers Beach. He and his wife opted to stay behind on the 9th floor of their condo. The commentator asked Jim what lessons he had learned. Jim’s response was:
We knew the hurricane was coming. We knew it was trending south. We knew that long in advance. We stayed primarily because we had some elderly folks in our condo building who were disabled. My wife is a nurse and we could not in good conscience leave them there alone. But we knew the hurricane was coming, and the lesson to be learned is, GET OUT. I take responsibility. The next time I’m going to take these seniors, or I’m going to carry them down personally, and put ’em in our car, and if we have to put people in the trunk, we’re going to get off the island! That’s the lesson to be learned.
Jim said that they had just gotten off the island after four days and that the situation was “apocolyptic.”
No decision is a decision
I follow the Facebook group MESA–Missing Equine Search & Awareness. I have just started to see posts related to horses missing because of the hurricane. However, the number of daily posts I see about horses missing from separation on the trail or escaping from their enclosure is increasing exponentially. MESA posts about missing dogs, cats, and people as well as missing equines. Recently, there was a missing German Shepherd that was a gift from a recently deceased spouse. The dog’s owner said the dog was neutered but not tagged and wore no collar. Why? Why wouldn’t this precious dog be identified in some way? How easy it is to identify our small animal companions!
Clearly, I believe in equine identification. I can’t count the number of times that Alan and I left camp during our recent trip and I took great comfort in the fact that our horses wore identification. If some issue arose while we were out of camp, it would be easy to notify us. Honestly, that scenario is not why I created these tags… but it surely is an unexpected bonus.
We came home from our trip early because Kadeen poked a hole in his leg and became lame. More on that in a future blog. Recently, I teased Alan about how he gets quite tightly wound sometimes… and his response was, “You get that way too, especially when it comes to your animals!” He is absolutely correct. When something is amiss with my animals, I am very stressed.
Consequently, I simply don’t understand the willingness of people to leave the safety and security of their animals to fate or to other people. Frankly, I don’t want to get badly hurt in a riding accident, so I wear a helmet, air-vest, and a medical information tag. I don’t want Alan to have to answer questions about my health when I am lying in a puddle of blood. I take personal responsibility for my health and safety and the health and safety of my animals.
It is less important to me what type of identification you put on your animals than the fact that you do it, period. True… magic marker on a hoof or body would not still be there after your horse stands in water for a few hours. But please make a plan! Get out of Dodge while there is still time! What is the worst that can happen if you evacuate and it wasn’t necessary? Would you rather lose your life?
The folks affected by the Marshall fire literally had no time to prepare. Our horses wear identification all the time. We live in high fire-risk areas! We haul our horses all over the country and stay somewhere new nearly every night! Our dogs wear ID collars with their name and my cellphone number embroidered right into the collar.
Remember… No decision is a decision!!!
Next week, I’ll post my write-up on Belva Deer camp, one of our favorite stops on this trip. Following that, I’ll tell you about Kettle Moraine State Park in Wisconsin, my 40th veterinary school reunion and attending a college football game, my lame horse and my latest prolotherapy treatment, among other things! The Purdue Veterinary School has sure changed… the entire campus is unrecognizable!