Large animal in danger? Call Wellington County Emergency Livestock Response

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Rescuing large animals can be difficult and scary, especially if you don't have the right training or haven't done it before.

That's why Hillsburgh-based Wendy McIsaac said she created her non-profit Wellington County Livestock Emergency Response (WCLER) almost a decade ago after she was one of 10 people originally trained in technical large animal emergency rescue by expert Rebecca Gimenez to improve and expand her first responder training.

Investigating what services were available in the county if a large animal incident were to happen and coming up with nothing, McIsaac developed WCLER in 2013 to help local large animal owners provide emergency services when they find their livestock in a "compromised situation."

"I thought this is great that we've trained (several people in emergency livestock rescue) but what do they do if something happens?" said McIsaac. "They don't have the equipment or tools, they aren't necessarily the (emergency responders) available at the time so that's when I started doing my own thing."

According to McIsaac, there's no such thing as a typical livestock emergency; her rescues can look like anything from an animal submerged in the mud, a barn fire or a horse getting its back legs hooked in a fence or door.

Responding to livestock emergencies from across Wellington County and rural Ontario, McIsaac said her main goal is always to rescue versus the recovery of a deceased animal.

"Being aware of the animal and its behaviour and language (is one of the most important things to know)...a lot of livestock emergency rescue is just knowing animal behaviour and that's usually where I start with my training," said McIsaac.

The last call McIsaac responded to was in Halton Hills when a horse trailer was t-boned by a car, which split the trailer in half, and then was hit by another car pulling a different horse trailer – creating a mangled mess of horse and metal.

"(Livestock emergency rescue is) important but it's not on everybody's radar I think because it doesn't happen enough," said McIsaac. "Being a firefighter, I know there are different things we focus on training on and there are little things that are always left behind because we're too busy training on these other things ... but the thing is, if it ever happens, you're like great now what?"

To help educate first responders on these situations, McIsaac runs a series of on-demand workshops designed to provide basic awareness-level training to groups like firefighters or horse groups for a minimal fee, which is used to purchase and maintain her rescue equipment.

These workshops cover topics like basic rescue techniques, first aid and field euthanasia, transport and roadway safety and barn fire and safety.

Although she started backing off on running workshops post-pandemic, McIsaac said she's been pleasantly surprised to see a recent renewed community interest in the topic.

"For years I banged my head against the wall saying firefighters need this training, they're trained on everything else but there's no time to figure out what to do when you have an animal hanging from somewhere or stuck up to their belly in something and they're going to freeze to death but I couldn't get it across," said McIsaac.

"(Responding to a situation without training) is like jumping in the car for the first time and you've never been in a car before. (Most first responders) don't know what they're doing or what to expect or necessarily what the animal is capable of because every animal is different and they haven't been trained accordingly."

Available 24/7, McIsaac said she's typically contacted by an impacted owner aware of her organization or through emergency services like the local fire department or the OPP, who are not typically trained in emergency livestock rescue.

While incidents are few and far between, McIsaac said she mainly rescues draft horses like Clydesdales as well as regular horses, cattle and turkeys.

Halton Hills and Caledon currently have McIsaac on call in an emergency, although she's received calls from townships like Puslinch as well.

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,