No animals were harmed in the training of the Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team (SMART).
This department of the Los Angeles Animal Services has been gearing up and training for El Niño. The team ran rescue drills Thursday at a water treatment plant in the San Fernando Valley, but didn’t use live animals over safety concerns.
Instead, SMART found an equally fluffy solution by using stuffed animals they call Mock Animal for Rescue Training Exercises (MARTE).
"We use a stuffed animal in the place of a real animal so that we don't put any live animals in danger, but we still get the experience of working with an animal in various different rescue scenarios," said SMART Team Leader Annette Ramirez.
SMART boasts a 100 percent save rate since they began their specialized training.
"We rescue anything from baby squirrels to horses and everything in between," said Lt. Armando Navarrete. "One time we went to rescue a hawk that had been trapped in a warehouse for a few days."
The team uses modified human rescue equipment for most of their rescues, moving straps around and adding padding since animals generally aren’t built like humans.
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That's not the only way SMART needed to adapt to suit the needs of their rescue targets.
"We need to figure out how we would get a victim who doesn't understand English, who has a stronger fight or flight reflex than a human, to let us get close enough," said Navarrete. "Anything can get trapped in a water situation, or mud or flood. Small animals are the hardest to rescue. They get stuck or trapped in the weirdest locations."
The team averages up to 25 rescues a month, according to Navarrete.
"Usually they're every other day, but sometimes we go a week without a call and then three in one day," he said.
SMART, one of only a few dedicated animal rescue teams in the country, gets called in by animal shelters or fire departments when those teams need help with the rescue.
The training for El Niño hasn't been much different from their regular training, but SMART has been doing a bit more swift water rescues in preparation for the coming storms.