The Kanine Kondo crew evacuated a lot of pets during the Corral Fire ... and they did it just to be on the safe side.
Remember those family road trips as a kid where everyone crammed into the car along with nearly every necessity that could fit except for the kitchen sink? Your parents always told you, despite your sour face, that it was going to be an adventure.
Now swap out the parents and kids for a few dozen dogs and cats crammed in travel crates inside a horse trailer along with bedding, food, cat litter, and even a fridge (aka kitchen sink) full of pet medicine and canned food. This was the exact situation Kanine Kondo, a pet boarding facility in Helena, found itself in while evacuating during the Corral Fire at the end of June.
Located on Norris Rd., Kanine Kondo has been offering professional pet boarding services for 17 years with owners Jackie Sampson and husband Steve at the helm. Though they have never had to evacuate their facility before, they were more than prepared when the Corral Fire came beating at their door.
While never given an official evacuation order, Jackie Sampson explained that she and Steve made the decision, on their own, to evacuate the facility on Wednesday, June 27. Jackie spent the night at the facility on Tuesday out of concern and described the smoke around the area at the time as “intense.”
Once they learned the fire had jumped Green Meadow Rd. their fears simply grew too high to wait any longer. “It’s scary because do you wait until someone tells you to leave and then run the risk of not being able to take the animals?” Jackie recalls pondering.
But her commitment to the animals and their owners compelled her to make the decision to leave while there was still time. “When we tell a client that we’re going to care for these animals, that’s exactly what we do,” she said.
Thanks to preemptive planning, Jackie already had a book of steps in place in the unlikely event of an evacuation.
“Preparation is so important,” she said. The first step she took was to contact the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds to see if they had any room to house the animals. They learned that the large multipurpose center would be made ready for them.
Steve next brought a horse trailer down from their house to help transport all of the animals. They then began the task of loading all 46 dogs and 15 cats, currently staying at the facility, into travel crates along with bedding and bowls of water. Although many of the crates had nametags on them, Jackie double-checked this to ensure that no animals were lost.
But Jackie and Steve weren’t the only ones facilitating the evacuation; there were many others who stepped in to help save the animals. Everyone from friends of the Sampsons and evacuated residents in the area to current and past Kanine Kondo employees and clients volunteered to help in any way they could. “Everyone was beyond wonderful,” said Jackie.
In between preparing to move the animals, Jackie did take the time to notify some clients of the situation. But with wanting to prioritize saving the animals over calling every individual client, she also changed the message on their business phone line to let everyone know that the animals had been evacuated but were safe at the fairgrounds. Both Jackie’s and Steve’s cell numbers were also left for clients to reach them.
While the animals were loaded into the horse trailer, extra bedding, towels, food, cat litter and other essentials were piled in beside them. Jackie joked that they even squeezed in a small refrigerator in the back filled with insulin for three diabetic dogs and one cat along with special canned food for pets on special diets.
Throughout the process, Jackie explained that some pets were clearly anxious but the calmness of the staff and helpers around them seemed to keep some of these feelings at bay. And once they were loaded up in the trailer, they seemed to do even better.
“They did fine in the crates packed in next to each other,” Jackie said. Shockingly, the entire evacuation took a mere 2 hours. Jackie personally stayed at the facility though until the very end.
“I wouldn’t leave the building until I knew everyone was gone,” she said.
And despite the disruption in the animals’ routine, they didn’t seem to mind at all. Jackie said that they were all very excited once they got to the fairgrounds and displayed the attitude of “oh yeah, we’re on an adventure!”
After one slumber party night at the fairgrounds, the animals from Kanine Kondo were allowed to return to their facility.
“They were so happy to go and romp in the yard,” said Jackie.
While the evacuation of Kanine Kondo could’ve been a terrible ordeal, it turned into one of those rare times when the compassion and generosity of people is witnessed. For the animals, it was a fieldtrip they hadn’t planned on. Jackie and Steven teased the clients that they wouldn’t even charge extra for the adventure.
Looking back, Jackie is most grateful for all of the individuals who volunteered their time to help.
“I can’t begin to thank the people and workers,” she said. “It felt like little angels dropped.”