Without Noah’s Ark, relocating reptiles, cows, dogs, sheep, pigs, birds, goats and horses in a flood sounds impossible.
Misspits Rescue between Rochester and Oakville began as a pitbull saving operation, and now has over 80 animal residents living on a 13-acre farm just off U.S. Highway 12. Last Thursday, rescue owner and founder Melissa Nolan realized her farm was about to flood — and there was no ark in sight.
As the Chehalis River reached the major flood stage over the weekend, Nolan’s farm along the Black River was inundated with at least 5 feet of flood water in some places. It overtopped fences and filled her field, well, barn and shed, carrying in debris and bales of hay in plastic from neighboring farms.
With very little time between news of the flood and the start of the event, Nolan’s community and friends jumped into action to help her evacuate 69 of the animals. Many dogs, fish and reptiles stayed behind and were moved into her living room.
“I just put out a call. I said, ‘I have to start getting my animals out of here,’” Nolan said.
The local feed store called to tell her there was a farm with space lined up for her cows, including her enormous Scottish Highland bull, Luka.
A nearby friend took in about 30 birds including roosters, peacocks and pigeons. Oakville’s JustCare Rescue housed goats and sheep. Heartwood Haven, a sanctuary in Gig Harbor, helped evacuate animals throughout the day on Thursday and came back on Friday morning to load up three more big pigs. A Rochester woman volunteered to hold the horses.
Late Friday night, Nolan watched as flood waters crept up to the edge of her house. She debated for hours about whether or not to leave. At 1 a.m. on Saturday, she decided to try it, but couldn’t even make it out to her truck. She stayed up all night with her animals and hoped the water wouldn’t come in the house.
Fortunately, the home had flooded years before Nolan ever moved there, and was lofted just high enough to avoid taking on any water Saturday. Everything outside the house, she presumes, has been destroyed.
On Monday, at least 2 feet of water was still standing over parts of the farm. Getting all the animals out safely was a victory for Misspits and the team that stepped up to assist the rescue. But now, serious work must be done before things can return to normal.
“It’s just, it’s overwhelming. I think, at least for me in this, the whole thing was save everybody, get there. And we made it through. But you don’t really prepare yourself, or I didn’t, for the next days, weeks, months, that this is going to take. I miss my animals. They’re everywhere, I can’t see them,” Nolan said.
At first, she was thinking the animals would be gone for a few days before returning to the farm later in the week. By mid-afternoon Monday, the reality was sinking in for Nolan, who said she didn’t think she’d even be able to drive out of her property until after Wednesday.
She’d been using waders to get around and assess the damage. Besides her house, large truck and 1960s-era tractor, Nolan couldn’t find anything across her acreage that wasn’t ruined, including her car.
“I was just speaking to the local rep for the ASPCA and he was again reiterating, ‘That’s dangerous water, make sure your animals aren’t drinking it and make sure you don’t have cuts or anything that you’re getting because it’s really dangerous.’ And then that’s soaking all your stuff. So even if the stuff is plastic or whatnot and not physically ruined, it’s probably contaminated,” Nolan said.
The animals of her rescue will have to remain in the long-term care of others until it is safe for them to return.
According to previous reporting in The Chronicle, Misspits was first created as a place to take in dogs that have lived through hardship and animals that have become too challenging for their owners to care for, which is the case for Luka the bull.
Nolan has been a vegan for decades, and sees herself as an advocate for misunderstood pets and farm animals.
There’s a huge task in front of her, but Nolan knows she wouldn’t have even made it this far without the support of her community. After living in a city, Nolan was shocked by the way her neighbors wanted to help her since she moved to the area in 2017.
“This community is great. Everybody, you know. I’m hearing from people all over that want to help. I met my neighbor here that I hadn’t met, they’re kind of new here. And she brought me water,” Nolan said, adding later: “You remember to be thankful because everybody got out. That’s obviously, that’s the first thing, but, it doesn’t really take the sting out. Some, but, still. I wish they could come back.”
Donations can be made to assist Misspits Rescue’s recovery on Facebook, @misspits.rescue.wa, or Instagram, @misspitsrescue.