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Horse communities in Washington, Oregon come together to rescue animals from wildfires

As parts of Western Oregon continue to burn and thousands of people are on alert to possibly evacuate, another type of evacuation is happening. The horse community in Oregon and Washington is stepping up to take in animals and to transport them to safer locations.

“Help — we have to evacuate. Do you have room for my cow and her calf?” someone wrote on an animal rescue Facebook group. On Twitter, “Help, we have 26 horses that need to be moved out now!”

An equestrian facility called Mount Hood Center, just south of Gresham, Oregon, is now completely full with animals that had to be evacuated due to fire.

Mount Hood Center started taking in animals on Monday. Now, it's sheltering more than 80 horses, a cow and a few donkeys. Many of the animals have never been in a stall before, which made for a rough first night.

“It was pretty loud," said Brandi Hatch, an employee at the facility. "It was kind of chaos a little bit, just trying to get the couple of donkeys that we had would not go in the stall and after a lot of great group effort we finally got them in.”

Hatch says all of the animals are now settled in and their owners are on site feeding and taking care of them. This center is not the only place offering a safe place for larger animals. People from the horse community as far north as Bellingham, Washington, are offering free stalls, pasture space and hay. Animals also are being moved to county fairgrounds.

One silver lining in all the tragedy and destruction that is unfolding is seeing a community come together, trying its best to help, says the facility's director Aaron Shelley. “A willingness to work together, to be patient, to be kind to one another, to understand that this is hard for everyone,” Shelley said.

Many large animal owners are finding that they have to evacuate pets and livestock multiple times as fast-moving fires threaten areas that were thought to be safe refuges. That’s what happened to Doug Rosario from Boring, Oregon.

Rosario turned up at the Mount Hood Center with his horse, Ted, and three other horses he rescued. He was keeping the horses he rescued on his property, but then he was told he’d likely have to evacuate soon. The horse belonged to Rosario’s daughter, but now that she’s graduated from college,  he now looks after Ted. The family has had Ted since he was 5 years old. Today, he's 22.

“He took care of my daughter for 14 years and never missed a step," Rosario said. "Never threw my daughter. So I said that guy’s a keeper. So we'll keep him around.”

Choking back tears, Rosario said: “I grew up in New York City and I've been around a lot of different people and a lot of different avenues and hobbies. But there is nothing like horse people. They're the salt of the earth.”

Many people who own horses, sheep, cows and llamas often don’t own trailers to haul them. Moving these animals is more complicated than, say, putting a dog or a cat in the backseat of a car. Rosario advised anyone who has a large animal and who might have to evacuate, to not wait until the last minute. Make a plan now.