Rita Gutierrez, the county’s commander of field operations for the Department of Animal Services, and Gina Moran-McGough, emergency services coordinator, answer questions during Thursday’s MEMSCOMM meeting. Photo by J.P. Crumrine

Large animals and pets, specifically their safety and rescue, during an emergency was the topic for last week’s MEMSCOMM (Mountain Emergency Services Committee) meeting.


Rita Gutierrez, the county’s commander of field operations for the Department of Animal Services, spoke to attendees about the agency’s rescue efforts and organization.

REARS, or Riverside Emergency Animal Rescue Services, is available for emergency situations only, she stressed. The Animals Services Department has full-time officers for non-emergency situations. Last year, nearly 50,000 animal incidents occurred and involved the department, according to Gutierrez.

REARS’ focus is large animals, although they aid and assist dogs and cats during the emergencies and sometimes other farm animals such as pigs. During last month’s Buck Fire in the Aguanga area, REARS had to release a 400 pound pig to find safety in the field during the fire.

REARS is fully staffed with volunteers. To join the program and help during these incidents, individuals have to take a one-day training class and normally eight hours of training or preparation during the year, she said.

When an emergency incident occurs, the county’s Office of Emergency Services will notify Gutierrez and alert her that animals may be endangered or needing help. They work closely with the incident commander and OES throughout the emergency, said Gina Moran-McGough,emergency services coordinator.

For example, if the incident commander issues an evacuation order, as was done for the Buck Fire, REARS will arrive to aid any animals that could not be taken, such as the previously mentioned pig.

“They are being taken care of when you’re not there,” is how Gutierrez described REARS’ involvement. “Our responsibility is to go to each house and feed and water the animals.”

She also stressed that it often harder to relocate the animals to temporary shelter than help them survive at home.

When there is an evacuation, REARS and OES must find a location for an animal shelter because the Red Cross shelters are limited to humans only. This is also why Gutierrez recommends a microchip with ownership information embedded in each pet or animal. It will immensely improve REARS’ ability to return and reunite the animals once the emergency has passed.