Aiken Public Safety’s Large Animal Rescue saves livestock from the floods of Florence
Officers with the Aiken Department of Public Safety wear many hats, but it is still relatively unknown that they also serve on the only full-time large animal rescue team in South Carolina.
The Large Animal Rescue is a division of Technical Rescue Team in ADPS. The team currently consists of 30 members and is expanding.
“We deal with horses stuck in mud, horses stuck in pools or tanks or in places they’re not supposed to be, such as ravines and things like that,” said Lt. Daymon Spann of Aiken Public Safety.
In addition to rescues, the team will assist with large animals involved in accidents, work events like Steeplechase in case of emergencies and will help owners without trailers transport injured or sick animals to a vet.
“We’re prepared, basically, to respond anywhere within the CSRA, 24/7,” said Spann. “All they have to do is call Public Safety.”
Spann said the most common call they get is for escaped animals. The team has corralled loose bulls on the interstate, and recently tracked a couple of escaped horses to the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center.
“Because we’re kind of a little niche group, nobody really knows about us when they need us,” Spann said. ”…As a whole, yeah, we’re still highly unknown.”
People not knowing about the rescue can make the team’s job difficult, even with accidents that happen in Aiken. Sometimes they don’t get calls until after animals have spent hours in dangerous situations because owners don’t know there is an ADPS resource they can take advantage of.
Once, the team responded to a call for a horse that was trapped in a mud pit during a trail ride during November. Efforts to free the horse were futile. By the time someone who knew about the Large Animal Rescue became involved and put in a call to Spann’s team, the horse had spent two hours in the cold mud.
It took the team only 20 minutes to free the horse once they arrived.
The damage is much worse when the calls come in late for natural disasters, which the team responds to statewide.
In 2016, a levy in Marion County was breached by floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew, and large areas flooded overnight. People woke to find water filling their homes, and many were forced to flee without evacuating their animals.
Spann recalled seeing horses, cows, goats and hogs that drowned after standing in high water for eight days, and dead dogs tethered in their yards that “never stood a chance.”
“Marion County flooded again after Hurricane Florence due to all the rain that got dumped, not only in that region, but also in North Carolina,” Spann said. ”…All that water came rushing down.”
Because officials knew the floodwaters would rise again, they called the Large Animal Rescue for help ahead of Hurricane Florence. The team left for Marion County on Sept. 17 and stayed for several days. Most of their operations focused on evacuating animals before the floodwaters rose too drastically.
“In that region it’s mostly rural farmers,” Spann said. ”…They don’t typically have a horse trailer. We had livestock in the area that had nowhere to be evacuated, and there was nowhere to go because there was water coming from both sides this time.”
Spann and the rescue team set up temporary shelters for livestock and pets, which they evacuated from pastures that days later were completely flooded. The roads looked like rivers, and a team member had to ride ahead on a four-wheeler so the truck and trailer wouldn’t be carried off by rushing waters.
Other Aiken officials like Aiken County Animal Shelter Manager Bobby Arthurs went with the team to Marion County to assist with rescues and evacuations for smaller animals like cats and dogs.
The team also delivered feed and did welfare checks on animals who had been left in pastures that weren’t entirely flooded.
The team saved many animals, but Spann said it was a relief when the call to evacuate 600 head of cattle at a local farm was cancelled by the owner.
Spann said “all is quiet” in regards to Hurricane Michael and the team received no calls.
The Large Animal Rescue team is fully funded by donations from the community, with ADPS officers providing the manpower. Donations can be made through the Aiken SPCA or the Large Animal Rescue.