In the chaos of a large forest fire, things happen quickly.
A banging on the door in the middle of the night sends panicked families to their cars as they evacuate their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs and what they can grab as they flee. What happens when there are more than just the human members of a family to worry about? Pets can easily be added to the car, but horses and other livestock require more time and equipment to move. The Camp fire in Butte County has forced thousands of people to leave their homes and beloved animals in their rush to safety. Two local women are doing something to help those owners who may be in danger of losing their animals.
“We founded Hold Your Horses the weekend of the Mount Diablo Fire in 2013,” said Chantel Tieman, a horse owner in Brentwood. “Our family was pulling horses away from the fire, and it was mass chaos, and we figured there had to be a better way to do this.”
Tieman and her daughter, Naydeene Koster, put their heads together and came up with Hold Your Horses Livestock Emergency Evacuation Response Team (HYH). Over time, they’ve grown their plan and their reach beyond Contra Costa County. They have now helped animal owners all over Northern California, and when there is a fire, HYH comes running.
“We have about 350 members who offer to haul and house animals on their ranches temporarily,” Tieman explained. “But we also have a strike team that goes behind the lines and gets the animals. And we will continue to bring supplies as long as we can. After the last big Butte fire, we brought supplies for three months after it was over. Our biggest focus is to go straight to the stables and ranchers and get them the supplies they need for horses, dogs, cats, sheep – whatever.”
Tieman sent her strike team to the Camp fire last week to help back-up the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG). The strike team, led by Brentwood resident Kate Ridener, spent 72 hours assisting local authorities in evacuation and sheltering animals. All members of the team donated their time, trailers and more to help the victims of the Camp fire, both two-legged and four.
“Volunteering for HYH allows me to make a difference during tragedies like the Camp fire in Butte County,” Ridener said. “Whether is it is a high-risk rescue, ensuring fire victims have supplies or educating the public on disaster preparedness, Hold Your Horses Livestock Evacuation will be there.”
Tieman and Koster are currently gathering supplies to take to Butte County next week. Their trailers will be loaded with food, veterinary supplies, blankets and more to help fire victims in the next phase: rebuilding.
“We have several phases to our program, not just evacuation,” Tieman said. “We not only rescue and temporarily house, we continue to offer support with feed, horse blankets, dog food, cat food, Visa gift cards – whatever they need to take care of their animals. Our main focus is livestock, but horse owners always have cats and dogs and other animals, too. We also educate ranchers on how to keep their land safer and be ready for a disaster.”
Koster, a new mother, has been handling behind-the-scenes operations: running dispatch, answering calls, updating animal owners and keeping track of the group’s drivers during rescue missions. She said that while the work is hard, the reward is sweet.
“Mainly, after all the hard work is done and the dust is settled, I love reuniting the animals with their owners,” Koster smiled. “Seeing the look of joy on the owner’s faces, it makes all the work and the long nights and suffering worth it. Seeing how much it means to them makes it worth it to me.”
HYH is currently asking for donations to take north to Butte County and will continue to do so in the months to come. To donate to their rescue and education efforts, or for more information, contact 925-584-1976 or email@example.com or visit the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HoldYourHorsesContraCosta.