LIVINGSTON — Within seven minutes, Alicia Davis and fellow Stafford Animal shelter staff went from dry ground to waist-high water on Monday evening as they worked to evacuate about 30 animals.
The shelter staff and volunteers preemptively started evacuations Monday evening as the Yellowstone River, just a half-mile away, threatened nearby bridges.
“It was in a matter of seven minutes that it went from no water at all to be completely overtaken in the shelter,” said Alicia Davis, director of operations and outreach at the Stafford Animal Shelter. “The water was just rushing. This entire area was like being in the Yellowstone River.”
The full extent of the damages is not known yet, leaving the future of the building in question.
“Every single animal in the shelter made it out, including the fish tank, so we’re thrilled. And the staff made it out safely, which was really the concern with water that high,” Davis said.
Five of the shelter dogs were moved to higher ground to the second floor of the shelter’s barn until a swift water rescue team was able to evacuate them around 2:30 a.m. Three other dogs were turned loose.
“One of them followed us out and he swam with us to the higher ground as the road was flooded,” Davis said.
A handful of cats, birds, fish, a guinea pig and a rat were on higher perches and ledges in the shelter and were evacuated Tuesday.
“For people’s whose life work is animal rescue, to have to leave animals behind was so heartbreaking. It was wonderful that they came in to get the rest of them out. And our staff was just so courageous,” Davis said.
The water, which reached at least 3 feet high, had receded by Wednesday, allowing shelter staff to return and inspect the damage. They found floors caked in mud, an exploded transformer, electricity down, electricity out, damage to the boil system, computers and surgical equipment.
“Everything was damaged,” Davis said. “It’s almost a complete loss.”
As Steve Leach, executive director of the shelter, surveyed the front lobby on Wednesday he said it was devastating.
“We thought we had really come a long way and were looking forward to the future when this happened and it just derailed us,” Leach said. “We don’t know where to go from here.”
Complicating any repairs or renovations, Leach said, is the shortage of workers and the number of other buildings and businesses who will need flood repairs.
“It could take a while to restore this building. And then if this building can’t be restored, then we gotta think about a whole new location,” Leach said.
The shelter was waiting to have professionals estimate the full extent of the damage before estimating when or if animals could return to the building, but the damage was extensive on a first survey. The focus now was on rebuilding and keeping its doors open for the future.
“It was a very traumatic situation but going forward now we’ve got to brush ourselves off and stand up and regroup and decide what to do,” Leach said.
The shelter, which acts as an evacuation center for Livingston, had already taken in several animals from people whose houses were flooding Monday. Davis said they had to call those families and have them pick up their animals.
“It was horrific, shocking is the only way I can describe it. It was like a flash flood that came through all of a sudden and swept through,” Davis said of the experience.
While the shelter works to get a complete picture of the flood’s impacts, they’re accepting financial donations.
“The community response has been heartwarming,” Davis said. “Right now, the funds are the most critical.”
The shelter is asking for donations to be made online through its website, Venmo or Paypal. It hopes to have more information about in-kind donations at a future date.
The shelter utilized its network of foster homes to send some of the animals to. While others were moved to partner shelters, including Bozeman’s Heart of the Valley.
As the closest shelter to Livingston, Heart of the Valley would be taking in any pets people might need to surrender or any stray pets that would have normally gone to Stafford Animal Shelter, said Marla Caulk, executive director of Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter.
Caulk said she’s been in talks with Community Organizations Active in Disaster, which covers Gallatin, Madison and Park counties.
“They’re in rescue mode and haven’t necessarily moved to recovery mode yet. I feel that’s where we’re going to be playing a bigger role in helping the community to recover,” Caulk said.
Caulk encouraged people interested in helping to donate financially to the Stafford shelter.
“It’s just really devastating for the staff and the volunteers and the community,” she said.