Rescue rig stops in valley

Humane Association's tour makes educational pit stop at Foster Farms

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 12, 2013 

— A natural or man-made disaster can strike in seconds, displacing hundreds of families in its path of destruction.

But what about those family's four-legged companions?

Even in the midst of superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of people risked their lives by refusing to leave without their pets.

Others had no choice and were separated from their furry family members.

But the American Humane Association reacted to those disasters, sending its 82-foot big rig to save displaced animals and provide on-site veterinary services.

On Tuesday, the rig opened its doors to Foster Farms employees and the general public in Livingston. It was all part of an eight-city tour sponsored by Foster Farms, which became certified by the American Humane Association this week.

After Livingston, the rig will make stops in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Kathi Brock, national director of the American Humane Association's Humane Heartland Program, said the big rig has traveled the country and seen its share of disasters.

"It goes to all of the natural disasters -- wherever animals are threatened and there's not enough local support to help," Brock said. "When a person loses their home, we'll help by sheltering the animal and seeing that it gets to a safe place or back to its owner."

The rig, which holds up to 10 people, can deploy rescue gear in critical disasters.

The crew has rescued 70,000 animals in the last five years alone.

And it's not just domestic pets, such as dogs and cats. They've taken in farm animals including horses and pigs.

Greta Janz, vice president of marketing at Foster Farms, said the big rig tour allows the public to learn about the American Humane Association's programs for animals.

She called the AHA certification a "milestone," adding that it means the Livingston-based company is meeting the association's animal welfare standards.

A 200-point checklist sets requirements for chickens' living conditions, including climate-controlled barns, diet and food standards. Those strict standards must be met by all 140 Foster Farms ranches, she said.

Robin Ganzert, American Humane Association's president and chief executive officer, said the certification shows Foster Farms' commitment to doing the right thing.

"Foster (Farms) has given a voice to the voiceless," she said. "It shows that they're stepping out in a leadership position to show that it's important to raise birds humanely. Quite frankly, it's what families expect."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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