The combination of several inches of rain and rapid melting of the snowpack caused rivers near Yellowstone National Park to reach historic flood stages, including the Yellowstone, Boulder and Stillwater rivers. Several roads, buildings and trees were destroyed by the rushing water in an area known for its pristine beauty.
The Yellowstone River runs through Livingston, Montana, where Stafford Animal Shelter is located. Floodwaters rushed into the shelter on June 13 as levels reached nearly 4 feet high.
"It happened very suddenly," said Lauren Smith, the shelter’s executive director. "We evacuated all the animals out safely, including our fish."
The shelter said 30 animals were rescued in total and have all since been adopted out.
"We lost everything from tennis balls to toys to beds," she added. "But since June, we've been working to restore and reconstruct the facility here."
Restoration included removing the bottom half of the drywall and replacing all the contents in the building, from animal beds and kennels to desks and computers.
Unfortunately, the shelter did not have flood insurance and needed to fundraise all the money required to restore their property.
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By October, the no-kill, open-door shelter that accepts all pets in need regardless of age, species, breed or medical condition was able to open its Bon K9 Rescue Center, a smaller multipurpose building in the back of its main shelter.
In four months, Smith said that 105 animals were taken in for shelter – most half were surrenders related to housing issues. After seven months of rebuilding, restoring and fundraising, the shelter could finally open its main doors Monday and resumed normal operations.
"By opening the main shelter, we're able to welcome strays and hold any animal for a legal or criminal case," Smith said.
Smith said the shelter welcomes strays from Park County and the city of Livingston. However, she reminds residents that cats that wander are not lost, and most lost dogs are found within a mile of their homes.
"Ensure your animal has proper identification tags on with updated contact information and microchipped," she added.
Smith also asks the community to continue to post animals found on social media within their community and give the owner and animal time before bringing the animal to the shelter.
Aside from a new flood insurance policy, the shelter has raised all of its air handling and utility devices on metal racks off the ground in case it floods again.
"We've definitely learned from the experience," Smith said.
Click here if you want to help by donating to the Stafford Animal Shelter.