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Pet rescuers drill for emergency

Mary Ostop, left, of Merrick pretends to register

Mary Ostop, left, of Merrick pretends to register a dog for Lorraine Siena Reid, right of South Hempstead, while Beverly Poppell, center, vice president of Safe Pet Coalition pets it's head during the second day of animal disaster response training hosted by the Wantagh-based coalition at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. (July 29, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

Surprised midbreakfast by news that wildfires would force them to evacuate an animal shelter, about two dozen participants of the Pet Safe Coalition's disaster-training workshop jumped to action Sunday in East Meadow.

Rescuers donned hard hats, broke down animal cages and ushered 26 pets into cars, forming a convoy headed to safety.

It was only a drill, and stuffed toys stood in for live animals. But the chaos, the adrenaline and the urgency were real.

"You never know what you're going to come across, and you have to be prepared for any possibility," Michael Arcari, of the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, said in an interview during the training program.

The drill was part of an overnight workshop that he and the Wantagh-based Pet Safety Coalition hosted at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. Topics included animal evacuation, intake and handling, and "how to make a shelter out of nothing," said Jo Ellen Cimmino, the coalition's director of animal disaster services.

Later in the morning, the North Shore Animal League America, of Port Washington, brought three live dogs to the makeshift animal shelter. The volunteers then treated pretend animal and human injuries and resolved very real personality conflicts among the volunteers.

The training was important because of the current hurricane season and brush fires this past spring in Suffolk County that jeopardized horses.

Cat Erickson, 43, of North Babylon, said she helped with rescue efforts in New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath and witnessed some residents' refusal to evacuate without their beloved pets.

"We learned a lot of lessons" about the need for emergency pet shelters, she said in an interview. "This is real-world experience."

Cimmino taught participants the incident command system, adding that the emergency management office is "top dog" at a disaster scene. She also explained that managing human emotions is perhaps more important than managing animals.

Mary Ostop of Merrick, a self-professed "bleeding heart" who cries at the sight of road kill, said, "There is a role for everyone in an emergency."

Preparedness and teamwork are key, said Kim Lasek, of the animal league.

"It's just making sure everyone is on the same page and working together," said Lasek, 32, of Albertson.

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