Expert: Animals don’t know you’re helping

FAIRMONT – In the past 15 years, Jennifer Woods has trained more than 10,000 people in the United States and Canada on safety practices for vehicular accidents involving livestock.

This week, she blended facts, photos and humor to share her knowledge with area emergency, fire and law enforcement personnel, and individuals who transport animals.

“If you understand animal behavior, that’s 90 percent of handling,” said Woods, noting that most animals are considered prey, with humans as predators.

“There are two main motivators of prey animals, fear and food,” she said. “Their two basic instincts are flee or fight. Normally, they will flee, but when you corner them, they will fight.”

If there is a vehicle rollover involving animal transport, first to the scene are usually police and fire departments.

“[The animals] don’t know you’re here to help,” Woods said. “Cattle were never taught by their mothers that lights and sirens mean ‘Pull over.’ They will run from fear.

“Animals do not think. They react. They live in the moment, and you cannot reason with them.”

Livestock is not color blind. Cattle see yellow/green and blue/purple, while horses see yellow and blue. Police in rain slickers or firemen in turnout gear with reflective tape will frighten animals.

Likewise, radios worn by emergency personnel can spook a traumatized animal.

“The scariest thing to an animal is the human voice,” Woods said.

“Always be patient,” she said. “Slow is fast. You’ll get it done a lot quicker.”

Woods recommended cautious movement around stressed animals following an accident. Cows can kick backward, forward and to the side. When horses bring a hoof up to kick, less than one-third of a second passes from liftoff to impact. Pigs bite.

Corralling loose animals takes finesse and patience.

“Fat cattle don’t go anywhere,” Woods said. “Steers will run. Hogs require a great deal of patience, and squealing does not always mean they are distressed. Bison have two speeds – still and run. They can outrun a horse, and they’re extremely dangerous.”

Woods offered techniques for opening an overturned semi-trailer and procedures and equipment needed to extricate animals.

Much of the necessary equipment, such as hand tools and gating panels, already is on hand for the Fairmont Fire Department.

The Minnesota Pork Board recently developed three emergency response trailers filled with equipment designed to complement a fire department’s existing gear. The trailers are located in Fairmont, New Ulm and Worthington.

Fairmont Fire Chief Doug Borchardt said local firefighters only recently took possession of the trailer and have not had time to schedule a practice drill with the equipment. He anticipates holding a joint practice with other fire departments in the near future.

Lowell Spee, a retired sergeant in the Fairmont Police Department, attended the meeting as a new member of the Martin County Planning and Zoning Commission. He could not recall, since his involvement in area law enforcement in 1985, any major vehicular accident involving animals, adding that the area has been “very fortunate.”

Woods, who grew up in Montana, is a certified animal welfare auditor currently living in Alberta, Canada. She holds an animal science degree from Colorado State University and a master’s degree from Iowa State University and consults to the livestock industry throughout North America, Australia and Europe.

Her Fairmont appearance was sponsored by Martin County Planning and Zoning, as well as a group of ag-related businesses.