Whaley Bridge dam: Pet rescue in the 'danger zone'

Rescued cockatiel Image copyright Animal Search UK
Image caption An escaped cockatiel called Joey was recaptured and handed back to his owner

As emergency workers battled through the weekend to stop the damaged dam at Toddbrook Reservoir from collapsing and devastating Whaley Bridge, another major operation was taking place in the town.

Hundreds of residents who had been told to leave their homes on Thursday had contacted missing pet organisation Animal Search UK for help to retrieve and feed beloved animals they had left behind.

Many pet owners had been at work when the evacuation began and were unable to collect their cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters and birds.

Other animals had been abandoned in the rush to evacuate with only enough food and water to last a day or two.

Image copyright Animal Search UK
Image caption The pet detectives worked their way through a list of worried owners

Following discussions with Derbyshire Police, Animal Search UK deployed a team of pet detectives on Saturday morning.

Isobel Johnson, from the service, said: "During the Friday evening and through Saturday and Sunday, we had nearly a thousand calls coming in from residents or people in the local area asking for or offering help."

"On Saturday morning one of our specialist teams began numerous trips into the 'danger zone' behind police lines to capture, feed and rescue abandoned pets.

"The team conducted 15-minute missions in and out of the area either alongside the owners, or at their request."

Derbyshire Police had imposed a strict 15-minute limit for one person from each household in the exclusion zone to return to attend to pets and grab essential medication.

Liaising with officers and worried owners, and against the clock, the pet detectives worked through a list of stricken pets, collecting them or sorting them out with food.

Meanwhile, back at the service's Chester base, new calls were coming in all the time.

Image copyright Animal Search UK
Image caption A local Pets At Home store donated food and essentials

The organisation usually charges owners a search team call-out fee, but waived the fees due to the extraordinary circumstances.

The operation was also supported by the volunteers from the RSPCA's Stockport, East Cheshire and West Derbyshire branch.

Retailer Pets at Home also contacted the team to donate food and pet essentials.

Ms Johnson said: "We found many animals were very confused and disorientated with the massive change to their daily lives."

'Overwhelming experience'

The two-man team arrived at one home to fetch a cockatiel called Joey which had run out of food since his owners evacuated.

They found the baffled bird had escaped his cage and faced a race against time to recapture him.

Ms Johnson said: "Ben and Andrew are both highly trained search team members - they were taught by a former police detective. That knowledge certainly came in handy as Joey was safely captured and calmed down by his owners."

Image copyright Animal Search UK
Image caption Pet detectives spent two days entering the danger zone to fetch pets

After two days of reuniting grateful owners with their confused pets, the team left Whaley Bridge on Sunday.

"It really has been the most overwhelming experience for everyone within the team, the kindness of all the people who have volunteered their help has been truly incredible," Ms Johnson said.

"The police have been fantastic in giving such a high level of support and understanding of everyone's needs. We couldn't be more grateful."

Before leaving, the team left cat food dotted around the exclusion zone, so any loose felines would not go hungry, and invited any residents whose pets remain missing to get in touch.

Image caption Charlotte Stonier's dog Coco has been staying with her at a hotel in Buxton

Meanwhile, it has been an unusual few days for residents who were able to take their pets with them when they left on Thursday.

Charlotte Stonier has been staying at the Palace Hotel in Buxton with her dog Coco.

She said: "Having a little dog, coming here and being completely out of routine is unusual but it is quite exciting in other ways.

"The staff have been wonderful and it's a true reflection of community spirit in High Peak."

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