Sep 22, 2021

Cutter Consulting Principal is devoted to rescuing animals and helping property owners.

Lisa Masten, Consulting Principal at Cutter Associates, will tell you with a smile that she was riding horses before she was even born.

“I grew up on a 500-acre farm in Missouri, where we had horses, and my mother rode while she was pregnant with me,” says Masten, who now lives in Northern California. “In addition to horses, we had cattle, hogs, sheep, and chickens, and raised crops like soybeans, corn, and hay.”

Today, she has turned that lifelong passion for animals into volunteering her time to saving horses and other livestock from the devastating wildfires that have ravaged parts of her adopted home state in recent years.

Three years ago, she joined Hold Your Horses, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that focuses on helping livestock owners during wildfires. As a member of the group’s Livestock Emergency Evacuation Response Team, she and her fellow volunteers evacuate, transport, and provide aid to horses, livestock, and their owners.

Devastation and Loss

It’s dangerous and challenging work, often done under treacherous conditions while rescuing frightened animals that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and in areas where the air is hazy with smoke as helicopters drop water and fire crews work to extinguish flames nearby.

Lisa Masten (far left) and teammates receive a deployment briefing

“If we don’t help with the animals, no one can,” says Masten, who, in addition to regular training, has volunteered for about three days of on-site rescue and shelter-in-place operations in the past year. “The individual counties don’t have the resources to do this and the property owners can’t do it on their own. Money alone does not solve the problem, if there’s no one there to do the work.”

She was motivated to volunteer in late 2018 just after the Camp Fire, also known as the Paradise Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history. The 150,000-acre fire destroyed more than 18,000 structures, killed at least 85 civilians and several thousand animals, and essentially wiped out the foothill town of Paradise, among other communities.

“It was a heartbreaking situation, and I joined the group right after that fire,” says Masten, who lives with her husband on a small hobby ranch in Shingle Springs, about 40 miles east of Sacramento, where they own two horses, “Mari” and “Shaemus,” along with “Merlin the Mule.”

“I had heard the horror stories of people not being able to save their livestock, and I had this strong urge to help. I thought, ‘Yes, I could give money, but there’s more I want to do.’ So I joined as a way to help not only the horses and livestock, but also the property owners who experience such incredible devastation and loss.”

Working as a Team

Lisa Masten (left) and teammates rescue a baby chick

Lisa has completed about 20 hours of required FEMA training. She recently trained on hoist systems and slings to lift horses out of emergency situations or to get a downed horse back on its feet. The group does regular training to simulate an emergency ─ in a barn, for example. Clear communication and organization are critical to both safety and getting the job done. “As you can imagine, it’s so important for us to follow safety protocols,” she says.

When volunteers do arrive in a real-world situation, it’s either before a fire or just after.

“We’re always in uniform and have identification on us,” she says. “We have identification numbers on our sleeves and register with county officials in advance. Unfortunately, livestock owners can be victims of theft because people will come in under the guise of saving their horses and wind up stealing them. We also have a fire liaison, a retired fire chief, who works with us.”

If the fire is too close or an evacuation is deemed unadvisable, volunteers will help with a shelter-in-place operation, which involves hauling in water and feed for the animals and providing supplies like toiletries and food for the evacuees. And it’s not just horses that volunteers rescue ─ it can be goats, sheep, cattle, family pets, chickens, and even a baby chick that volunteers recently saved from a drain pipe.

During the recent Caldor Fire that has burned well over 200,000 acres and threatened Lake Tahoe, the fire came close. Volunteers were feeding animals that were sheltered in place, and a pop-up fire could be seen nearby, so fire crews notified them to move out of the area.

“We follow the firefighter’s ‘Life First’ motto ─ yours, your partners’, the animals’, and then the structure,” Masten says. “Our mission is to help the victims ─ the animals and the people. But, of course, people’s safety always comes first.”

To learn more, visit the Hold Your Horses’ website.

To speak with Lisa about how she can help with your operating model design, system selection, and technology and business solution implementations, contact us at connect@cutterassociates.com or leave us a message in the feedback section below.