Police / Fire

Search and Rescue, Animal Control labor to save animals during flood

Search and Rescue team joins Animal Control to save animals for rising waters.
Councilman Ray Friend and Supervisor Mark Medina hand out guitars to students during summer 2017 free classes.

As BenitoLink has been reporting, the Lovers Lane area was again suffering from flooding as Panoche Creek overflowed its banks on Jan. 20, and the levee that had breached last week widened, allowing even more water to surge across farms, ranches and homes. By 12:50 p.m. Friday, rising waters had already exceeded the newly determined flood-stage level and the Office of Emergency Services declared a mandatory evacuation.

While people can be made aware of the evacuation, many of the cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and family pets end up fending for themselves as best as they can. If possible, some make it to higher ground, but many become trapped in corrals, barns and fenced-in pastures. For this reason, Hollister Animal Control and the San Benito County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue (SAR) teams ignored potential dangers of fast-moving water and monsoon-like rains to find animals and attempt to move them out of harm’s way.

David Irwin and Allen Lorscheider are volunteer SAR members who not only demonstrated a deep sense of dedication as they tirelessly carried out their missions of mercy, but also displayed all the attributes of those in such elite units and the military who are willing to risk themselves to save others—human or animal.

BenitoLink joined them in what was thought (by this reporter, at least) as a quick drive out and back to grab a few photos and maybe a personal story or two. But the drive out to Lovers Lane quickly turned into a multiple-mission journey that stretched out into the night.

Before leaving the command post, located behind the Dunneville Café & Market, Lorscheider commented that even though the floodwaters weren’t that high yet, people often underestimate how powerful running water can be.

“Most people don’t realize that they can be washed away in only three feet of water,” he said, adding that the water would most likely rise much farther during the night, so they had to do what they could prior to that.

As Irwin drove his powerful, four-wheel-drive, diesel pickup (I was told to leave mine behind at the command post because it wouldn’t make it through the water), they received a radio call that Julie Carreiro, of Hollister Animal Control, was trying to rescue a horse and needed assistance.

All the while, riding back and forth along Lovers Lane throughout the day, Irwin and Lorscheider displayed a camaraderie through an endless repartee of teasing and jibes tinged with a bit of dark humor common in dangerous professions about their work and just about every topic imaginable, from movies to who had the most concussions.

Irwin, in particular, had an encyclopedic recall of movies when trying to make a point about everyday life. He recommended that Lorscheider see the movie, "Concussion," so Lorscheider, who said he had experienced numerous concussions over the years playing football, competing in rodeos, and riding dirt bikes, would understand the effects of multiple concussions. Irwin did not spare the reporter in the back seat, who Lorscheider referred to as “the media guy” when radioing a status report back to the command post who was in the vehicle.

Irwin told Lorscheider he also needed to see the movie, "Nightcrawler," about an ethically-challenged freelance videographer who staged news events in order to gain fame and money. Said reporter wasn’t sure about the validity of the analogy. Such were the conversations that were interspersed with drudging through knee-high or deeper floodwaters.

For the most part, the jacked-up truck maneuvered along Lovers Lane without issue, but in some places parts of the road appeared to have eroded, so Irwin took care to keep clear of deeper water. Just as he pulled up to a farm at a turn in the road, the clouds opened up and a torrent of rain poured down as Carreiro could be seen leading a colt between buildings. As young as the horse was, it appeared calm and she easily led it out through knee-deep water onto the road.

Then the hail came.

As I snapped pictures of Carreiro through the streaked windshield as she led the now somewhat skittish animal, they all but disappeared from sight in the downpour. The rains came and went, time and again, in a flash and Carreiro drudged resolutely through the water headed for higher ground toward the end of the road. She and the horse were thoroughly drenched by the time they reached a corral where she loaded it into a horse trailer. The colt’s eyes were wide as it stared through the trailer slats and Carreiro commented that it had been trapped in a corral and it took her 10 minutes to catch it and slip on the bridle.

“It would have drowned if I hadn’t gotten it out of there,” she told a friend.

A few minutes later, Irwin and Lorscheider heard that there was a stallion that needed to be rescued. As they waited for confirmation and what was required of them, Irwin walked back into the flooded road when he heard the sound of what appeared to be distressed sheep. Through another cloudburst, he spotted men trying desperately to move a flock of obviously frightened sheep to higher ground. It wasn’t clear where higher ground was, as the entire area had all the appearances of a vast lake.

Up and down the road, we spotted cattle huddled in dilapidated barns or shivering on top of what hopefully was dirt. Lorscheider referred to one small group of cattle as “our famous cows,” because KSBW TV had broadcast their plight from a helicopter on the evening news the week before. Whether the poor bovines had remained on that small island for the past week or had been forced to retreat to it a second time, their futures seemed dismal. Irwin was convinced that all of the animals we saw were at risk of drowning from the continually rising water.

As is often the case in professions such as SAR and the military, time is often made up of “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” Not satisfied to sit and wait to hear what was to be done about the stallion, Irwin and Lorscheider decided to leave the pickup, with the ill-equipped reporter (as far as proper wading gear was concerned), in a semi-dry portion of the road as they journeyed off to find the horse.

Wandering off meant wading through varying depths of flowing, and possibly polluted water (the smell of raw sewage lingered in areas along the road). When they finally came back over an hour later, they brought a story of not one stallion, but a horse and pony, and one irate owner who did not want to cooperate with the rescuers. They were at odds at what to do because the official mandate was to offer assistance and rescue, but they could not force someone to cooperate.

Irwin was also somewhat concerned that the owner might turn violent because he appeared to be hostile toward animal control and SAR. While a larger horse trailer arrived in anticipation of handling stallion, officials decided to make one more plea to the horses’ owner.

By the time we got to the ramshackle home and outbuildings, it was already getting dark. Cars, mobile homes and houses were surrounded by water. Three female animal control personnel tentatively approached the home to try to convince the man to let them take the horses. Irwin turned the truck around, “just in case something happens.” He did not trust the man and was worried about the women.

As he stood beside the truck waiting, he told BenitoLink: “I know what we’re going to find in there. The horse will be standing in water with rotting hooves. It will be emaciated and have cuts and bruises.” Then he added, “I don’t know if we can even take the pony out because it’s too deep and it might drown.”

The animal control people apparently convinced the horses’ owner to at least let them see that the animals were safe. He led them and a couple other SAR volunteers out to the piecemeal barn. When they came out, they said the animals would stay, but they confirmed Irwin’s premonition about their poor conditions.

Everyone was cold and soaked through by this time, and they had been ordered to return to the command center where Louie Valdez, county public information officer, clarified that there had not been a second break in the levee, as some thought.

“The levee break doubled in size and the water is coming over the banks,” he said. “The original break got much bigger and that’s what caused a majority of the problem, along with the additional volume of water.”

He confirmed that 22 houses had been evacuated, but he did not know how many people were involved.

“There are just a few families at the vet center (Veterans' Memorial Building in downtown Hollister),” he said. "About five to 10 people. Regarding livestock and other animals, if folks need to take their livestock and put them somewhere, they can take them out to Bolado Park. If they have a dog or cat, or smaller animal, they can leave them at the animal shelter.”

He also confirmed that if people refuse help, “it’s their property, their prerogative.”

Here is aerial footage of the flooding, courtesy of OES:




John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]