To the rescue
By KRISS NELSON
GILMORE CITY – Jen Birkey, of Barnum, has been working around the clock since Saturday, assisting those affected by devastating floods in southwest Iowa and Nebraska.
But her focus hasn’t been on humans; Birkey is saving animals.
The flood damage is unlike anything Birkey has ever seen.
“If it could have been the perfect storm for a disaster, this is what it was.”
Excessive snowfall, rains and a fast melting of the snow is affecting much of the state of Nebraska and parts of Iowa.
“This is an American disaster. This is a disaster that we all have to be willing to put on our backs, because if the backbone of the America falls – agriculture – we all fall.”
Birkey assisted the group Emergency Evacuation Pet Rescue to help farmers, ranchers and others rescue animals.
“I believe that every person, I don’t care who you are, this is the time, right now, where the Midwest is at a risk for falling, and if the agriculture economy in Nebraska falls, South Dakota falls, Kansas falls, Iowa will fall,” she said. “We have a very dire situation right now. If the cattle economy in Nebraska falls, Iowa’s farmers are going to suffer.”
Birkey’s first attempt to help was a young man who had a home where the Niobrara and the Elk Horn rivers merge.
“He had three horses he couldn’t get to,” she said. “We went to the highest point we could with binoculars and put eyes on those horses. There was a mare, a pony and a foal. Unfortunately, by the time we were able to get down there with an air boat we were able to get to the mare, but the pony and foal were gone.”
Birkey helped rescue 200 San Clemente Goats – a breed that is endangered.
“In fact, 25 percent of the population, those 200, are sitting in Omaha, Nebraska, right now,” she said. “They went to Scattered Joy Acres, a rescue farm sanctuary.”
Near the sanctuary, 25 mustang horses have been taken to safety as well.
Geana Stoops, with Hooves and Paws Rescue of the Heartland, from Glenwood, has taken in 30 long horn cattle and has had over 200 calls for rescue help since Saturday.
“It’s not possible to do it all, so you do what you can, while you can. If you don’t think you can do it any longer, you keep on trucking. There are lives that are out there,” Birkey said.
Some people are still unable to reach their animals.
“They can’t get to their horses. There has been calving operations wiped out. There are people in Verigre, Nebraska, that haven’t fed their herds since Tuesday,” she said. “Not only do you worry about the stress from what is happening, but you are looking at the stress of not eating. You are looking at the stress of rain rot. You are looking at the threat of anthrax from these cattle sitting in water. The need for medication is huge and they just don’t have it.”
Help has come from across the country.
“We had helicopters that came in from Wichita that helped with a horse evacuation from the river. There have been air boats brought in from the Cajun Navy Search and Rescue. They have been a godsend.”
Birkey said Tristan Novak, of Manson, called her on Sunday morning offering help.
“He pulled down his excavator and his boat and brought two guys with him and we went out on a horse rescue that night,” she said. “I know he feels like he didn’t do a whole lot, but he did.”
That horse rescue, Birkey said, led to the discovery of several dozen dogs who had been left to die in Mills County.
“This guy surrendered his horse and he was just going to let these dogs die. We weren’t going to have that,” she said. “It was a situation where this guy was a person that probably should have not owned the dogs to begin with. We don’t know the whole story on it and we don’t need to know. “
The rescued dogs are being housed at AHeinz57 Pet Rescue and Transport, in De Soto; Hooves and Paws Rescue; Muddy Paws Second Chance Rescue, in Council Bluffs; and Stylin’ Pooch Dog Boarding, Grooming and Rescue, in Gilmore City.
“Those dogs will be rehabbed – these animals have never been socialized,” she said. “They cower. They have mass wounds on them. They have never seen human love.”
Thanks to Lynn Price, of Paton, who donated the Animal Protection Education mobile vet unit, it allowed for immediate care to be administered to those severely ill dogs, Birkey said.
“They are beautiful, young dogs. You look in their eyes and you see the damage, but you can also see their soul.”
Locally, Kim Colwell, owner of Stylin’ Pooch Dog Boarding Grooming and Rescue, is taking on some of the rescued dogs.
Veda and Scarlet are in her care.
Colwell said she had previously stopped taking in rescue dogs, but in circumstances such as this she couldn’t say no.
Veda and Scarlet received a well-check from a veterinarian before entering her care.
“All of the vet work has been done,” she said. “I can now work on the behaviors. Scared and nervous dogs are my favorite – it’s what I have done forever. I love watching the transformation. “
There is still a lot of work that needs done before Veda and Scarlet can be adopted.
“Everything is foreign to them. People are foreign. They are going to have to go to a very understanding family. Some people think they need to be petted and loved. These dogs need to be understood. There is a big difference. But they will get there,” she said.
The No. 1 goal, Birkey said, is to reunite the rescued animals with their owners.
“These dogs are a different story. They have been surrendered and they will not go back,” she said.
Some people are still searching for their animals.
“We had a call from a gal and they had a barn they could not get to,” she said. “The sheriff department finally let us in and we got to her barn and nothing was there. She is missing 20 Mexican show horses. They are missing goats. They are missing chickens. They are missing dogs. The hope is they went to higher land and they haven’t been washed away. You see that all over. It is very sad. You see the hope that has run out of the people’s eyes.”
Birkey is in constant communication with multiple groups, including a hay hotline. There is a huge need for hay – specifically the kind that can be fed to horses and cattle.
Transportation of that hay is another critical need.
Birkey said she is grateful for the help from Tim Burns at Decker Truckline in Fort Dodge.
“I want to thank Tim Burns profusely, because he got me connected with the Iowa Trucking Authority and they put out a plea to every single trucking company in Iowa to the owners, saying ‘listen, what can we do to help these people out?'”
Making those phone calls and connections is a great way to help.
“Anybody can do this from home. The worse thing they can do is tell you no. You get on the phone. You get on the hay distribution directory and call farmer after farmer and ask them if they are willing to donate,” she said. “You call trucking companies and tell them you have hay that needs picked up.”
Several groups, Birkey said, have set up GoFundMe pages, including the Emergency Evacuation Pet Rescue.
Locally, Colwell is looking for help with the rescues, more of which she is expecting.
She put this plea out on her Facebook page: “We are having a card shower. Please send a loving card of encouragement with your contribution to 2789 Colorado Ave., Gilmore City, IA, 50541. Volunteers are also needed to help with the day-today chores, spring clean-up and slowly earning the trust of these frightened, amazing animals. To help with rehabilitation, contact Colwell at 515-890-1716.”
Colwell suggested people also consider helping the other rescues: AHeinz57 Pet Rescue and Transport; Hooves and Paws Rescue of the Heartland; and Muddy Paws Second Chance Rescue.
Birkey fears that when the floodwaters finally recede, the real devastation will be revealed.
“I don’t think any of these farmers ever anticipated this would ever happen to them,” she said. “It doesn’t take much to know the real worth of one head, let alone wiping out an entire operation. Most of these people are not corporate farmers. These are family farmers and ranchers, with ranches with their family’s names on them. This is their livelihood.”
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To the rescue
By KRISTIN DANLEY-GREINER
The very tops of houses peek through the murky water, people’s belongings floating inside the once-livable homes.
Grain housed in submerged steel bins spills out onto the ground, completely ruined. Countless livestock drowned.
The slowly receding floodwaters reveal just how devastating the flood’s impact is on Iowans and Nebraskans farming and living along the Missouri River.
The flooding over the past month has been attributed to a “bomb cyclone” that drenched the Plains and Upper Midwest with both rain and snow. That weather phenomenon attributed to the already melting snow and ice concerns.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts described the flooding as the most widespread disaster in state history. So far, government officials estimate at least $400 million in damages to crops and an additional $400 million in deceased livestock.
Farmers have shared stories of how they had just 30 minutes to set their animals free, but couldn’t. They had to flee to safety themselves, leaving behind the livestock to drown
Roads have been completely ruined. Bridges collapsed. Railroad tracks knocked off their foundations. Even a U.S. Air Force base was deluged.
But as soon as central Iowa farmers heard of the plight their fellow producers were facing, they stopped listening and snapped into action.
Shelli Eatwell, of Collins, saw a video on Facebook of semis hauling hay to Nebraska. She instantly felt compelled to do something.
“I sat there thinking, ‘I wonder if I could get a load put together,'” she said. “So I picked up the phone, called some customers and friends, and within four hours we had a full semi load. Some local kids helped us out, too, so on Saturday, March 23, we hit the highway headed for Nebraska.”
Donations were dropped off at Moser Farms in Nevada, which pulled in bales from all around the area. Eatwell’s employer, Availa Bank of Nevada, donated $500 to help pay for the fuel for the first trip.
“I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try and see what we could do and I just picked up the phone and made some calls to see who could donate bales,” she said. “The last guy I called offered up six, which was exactly what I needed to fill up that first load.”
While on the way to Nebraska, a friend messaged her, offering up 17 big square bales and round bales to contribute to the cause. Eatwell knew she’d be arranging a second trip.
With the help of Baxter residents Brock and Robin Hansen, who helped spread the word on social media, a second convoy of donations was formed in no time at all.
“I had people calling me and texting me. It just snowballed,” Eatwell said. “We have three maybe four loads going on this second trip that heads out Saturday morning from Baxter.”
She accompanied the crew to Nebraska for the first trip and described the mood as somber and appreciative. More than 100 bales were dropped off before they arrived.
Help was coming from other states, including three more loads from Kentucky, two from Colorado and 1,100 big round bales were set to arrive after them.
The items were dropped off in Mead, Nebraska, at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center, away from the dangerous flooding and devastation.
“We saw houses going under and in the middle of fields were huge logs just floating,” Eatwell said. “They kept us on good roads, passable roads, so we could get the donations safely there. We’re hoping to drop this second trip off at actual farms and get them directly to the producers.”
The Hansens are donating the use of their truck and trailer, along with other area farmers, for Saturday’s trip. They couldn’t believe how quickly people stepped up to help for round two.
“It was all through Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. We didn’t have to ask anyone to help; they all volunteered,” Brock Hansen said. “I’m also the fire chief in town and my wife is on the EMS crew and everyone in the farming community is happy to help. What we’re doing is by no means heroic or hard work. The ones doing the hard work are the people rebuilding fences, cleaning up spilled grain, cleaning out their houses. They have a tough road ahead of them and we hope the donations really help them out.”
Sue Gooch, her husband Mike, and her brother, Larry Pierick, harvest hay ground near Mingo in Jasper County. A seed corn broker, Gooch pairs extra seed unwanted by seed corn companies with people seeking that seed. She was working with customer Jacobsen Seed out of Lake View when she heard about the company putting together a relief package.
“I said, ‘Well, we actually have some hay we could donate,'” Gooch said. “That’s where it all started.”
The three of them decided to contribute 40 bales to the cause and trek with them to Lake View, a two-and-a-half hour drive.
But Gooch felt the call to do even more.
“We made a few calls between the three of us Wednesday night and by Thursday morning, our trailer was full of hay, clothes, shoes and cash donations for buying livestock feed to take along with us,” Gooch said. “The response was amazing. We never dreamt that we would be able to pull something together like that.”
Even Gooch’s contacts at Jacobsen were astounded at what the Iowa farmers managed to do in less than 24 hours. Adrian, Josh and Joe Sheffield, of Colo, and Brad and Becky Ziesman, of Baxter, gathered up an assortment of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing. Todd and Stefanie Volz, of Ankeny, contributed two large square bales of corn stover. Nick Griffieon, of Polk City; Eric and Laura Harder, of Baxter; Kallie and Randy Hoksbergeg, of Polk City; and Kenny Sadquist, of Maxwell, donated almost 100 square hay bales along with the Gooches and Piericks.
Larry and Linda Pierick also supplied adult clothing, boots and blankets. Iowa State University offered the Nebraska-bound convoy numerous pairs of chore boots that were delivered by Jamie Anderson, of Ames, who also donated clothes, while Theisen’s in Ames offered the group a 15 percent discount on all animal feed Gooch purchased. Ed and Vicki Gooch provided $1,000 that was put toward the fuel needed to transport the hay, along with purchasing animal feed, salt, socks and T-shirts.
“We had a fourth cutting of hay for the horses and there’s too much foxtail in it to feed them, but it’s awesome for cows,” Pierick said. “We did this so that they know they’re not alone.”
Jacobsen Seed is currently filling a semi trailer with similar supplies that will hit the road April 5, along with the supplies provided by the central Iowans. They’re also accumulating bottled water and food to be handed out when it reaches Columbus, Nebraska.
“They have a farmer who is a customer of theirs who has agreed to be a drop-off and distribution point,” Gooch said. “He’s already received a load or two and by the end of the day, everything is gone. Everything is desperately needed and making a difference.”
“It doesn’t matter if anyone ever knows what we’ve done, but we go to bed feeling good that we did what we could at this point and time to help,” she added. “We know that this gesture would be returned to us in a heartbeat. It’s just the way the farming community is.”
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