RENO, NV - With a Nevada National Guard Chinook helicopter hovering overhead in the cold, wet skies, first responders from local counties--firefighters and animal control officers--worked repeatedly to put a replica horse in a harness to be lifted away by the chopper crew.
They were learning skills and using equipment that could be called on in the weeks and months ahead.
When disaster strikes, people in its path are sometimes forced to leave their large animals, horses, llamas and others behind, sometimes in rugged terrain, beyond anyone's abilities to help.
"If the owner cannot get the animal out, we can use the helicopter as a last resort," says Barry Brode of Washoe County Animal Services.
This is a new mission for the first responders and the National Guard and it grew out of one local horse owner's own tragic experience.
Two years ago Sandy McMahon of Washoe Valley lost one of her Clydesdales down a ravine in Kings Canyon.
"And I came to find out we had no sling or means to transport a horse out of that situation."
So, she appealed to other horse owners and animal advocates. Money was raised to buy this harness and today, the national guardsmen, the firefighters and animal control officers were practicing its use.
This capability will never replace thoughtful preparation for the possibility of wildfire, for instance.
This sort of rescue will always be an act of last resort. But the next time a horse or some other large animal is trapped beyond other means of evacuation, help may come from above.