The couple’s horse trailer had blown a tire and they didn’t have the tools to change it. It was the Fourth of July weekend, when temperatures were hovering around 110 degrees. They had called for assistance, but the wait would be long, due to the holiday. Meanwhile, their horses were sweltering in the back of the trailer.
Jones was able to fix the tire and get the couple back on the road, but the whole experience got him to thinking: “I probably knew five guys within five miles that would’ve dropped everything to help them.”
So he and Pierre started a Facebook group, Cowboy 911, dedicated to “helping farmers, ranchers, horsemen in immediate need of assistance.” Anyone who joins must be willing to “help your fellow American…because it’s the right thing to do! The cowboy way.”
The online community is now about 21,000 strong. “I had no idea it would get close to what it’s become,” Jones said.
But then, no one could have predicted that 2018 would be such a devastating year for California wildfires.
Less than a week after the Facebook group was started, the Carr Fire ripped through Shasta County. Jones posted on the Cowboy 911 page, and soon 45 trucks and trailers were evacuating livestock from Happy Valley. With hay, trailers and experience, the volunteers had the means to find and rescue displaced animals, both large and small.
They also opened three large animal evacuation centers in Red Bluff and Corning. Volunteers who couldn’t help with evacuation brought feed, water buckets, hoses and manure racks. Others cleaned stalls and provided veterinarian care for the rescued animals
Because of the real-time nature of Facebook, the effort proved to be extremely efficient. “And it’s perfect because everyone can choose their level of involvement,” Jones said.
On November 8, the deadly Camp Fire struck the town of Paradise and its surrounding communities.
Many residents escaped with just the shirts on their backs. They had little time to gather their beloved possessions. In fact, some were not able to return home at all. And thousands of animals were left behind.
So Cowboy 911 members organized animal rescues. However, they were initially shut out by emergency agencies.
“At first, the county didn’t want us there,” Jones explained. But then government officials intervened claiming, “These guys can get the job done.’
And they did. Soon about 500 trucks and trailers were evacuating 5,000 animals. The volunteers worked to locate all types of animals–from hamsters to horses–in hopes of returning them to their owners.
Help arrived from all over California and as far away as Idaho, Wisconsin and Arizona. Many of the volunteers slept in their trucks at night. (The fire would rage for 17 days before it was completely contained.)
That’s the power of Cowboy 911, with membership that stretches across the country. “It’s neighbor helping neighbor,” Jones said. “Whether it’s the person next door to you, in the next town or next state.”
And it’s given Jones a renewed sense in the goodness of people.
“I’m not a guy who’d normally start a Facebook group,” Jones said. “God really called me to do this…I think He did it more for me than for the people we’ve helped. I was at a point where I was losing faith in humanity.”
Glance at the Cowboy 911 Facebook page and you’ll see that the group has continued to serve as a place for people to help others. For instance, they mobilized efforts to rescue livestock during last spring’s devastating floods in Oregon.
Cowboy 911 is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) organization. According to Ms. Pierre, the group’s goal is to develop strike teams as a nationwide–even worldwide–disaster resource. To this end, they’ve been working with local law enforcement, first responders and veterinarians to help eliminate much of the chaos that comes with natural disasters.
“With our universal protocols, all Cowboy 911 members should be able to effortlessly step in and help during these situations. Our training will be the most comprehensive and geared toward our unique skill set: We know our animals!”