Small Animal Rescue (SmART) is a team of six animal control officers from the city of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services and one Los Angeles registered veterinary technician with extensive training and experience in rescuing small animals in extreme situations.
Formed under the city’s auspices since 2009, the current seven-member team says it has a 100-percent rescue rate, rescuing stray, owned, domestic and wildlife small animals.
Their most frequent rescues involve cats and kittens, followed by a wide variety of wildlife, then dogs and puppies.
The team is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day and the service is free of charge, saidArmando Navarette, animal control officer II and team leader of SmART. Navarette has 14 years of animal rescue experience, and started the group 13 years ago.
His team members include Ramon Garcia, registered veterinary technician, with three years of rescue experience; Annette Ramirez (R.A.K. ropes, anchors and knots) 12 years rescue experience; Andrew Redfield, alternate team leader, 12 years rescue experience; Sean McCarthy, three years rescue experience; Ernesto Poblano, four years rescue experience; and Yvette Smith, three years rescue experience.
SmART is described as the only local animal search and rescue team with all of its seven members certified by the National Fire Protection Association to perform swiftwater and rope rescue operations. This is the same training the fire and mountain search and rescue teams go through, Navarette said.
Navarette wants the public to be aware of the SmART services and he also wants to educate people about the other services provided by the Department of Animal Services, such as spaying/neutering, licensing, fostering, adoption and volunteering.
Navarette, a reserve animal control officer, recalled how his first animal rescue involved a dog that got trapped under a house in South Los Angeles after he crawled under the house and then fell into a six-foot-wide by six-foot-deep hole.
The officer said he crawled under the house without equipment and got the dog out, but the tough part was getting himself out. He struggled for a few minutes and freed himself, but the experience made him realize that animal search and rescue was a necessary part of what his department should be doing.
“I started my team with some rope from Home Depot, a climbing harness, a few carabiners (a metal loop used widely in rope work such as climbing) and the determination to rescue animals in distress,” he said.
That desire to rescue animals in distress was just what was needed early in the morning on Sunday, Jan. 16 during an incident in Westchester. Two days before, local resident Lorrie Leon was outside her home when she heard meowing. Looking around, she realized that a small, white kitten was trapped in a 60-foot-high tree and was unable to get down.
Leon said she was very worried about the kitten and began calling various rescue groups and other organizations, but no one was able to come out and assist in getting the kitten out of the tree. She then contacted Los Angeles Animal Services, and after the call reached Navarette, he and his team arrived in the early morning on Jan. 16.
Navarette said the kitten was initially at 25 feet high, and then climbed to 35 feet and finally to 40 feet. The officer and other team members, including veterinary technician, Garc’a, brought climbing gear, a net, and cameras mounted on their helmets.
Garc’a carefully climbed up the tree to where the kitten was perched 40 feet up. He gently reached out and after a few minutes, was able to establish a grip on the kitten, which turned out to be a six-month-old male, and carefully placed him in a safety bag for transport back down the tree.
By this time, several neighbors had gathered, along with Leon, to watch the rescue. Leon said she was very grateful to the team for rescuing the kitten, but added she was concerned that the kitten might have been harmed after being in the tree for two days.
But after being held for four days at the West Los Angeles Animal Shelter and determined to have no microchip or collar, the kitten was adopted by someone, said Navarette.
Initial assessments by SmART are handled by an Animal Services animal control officer, who refers the incident to a supervisor for activation consideration. If the supervisor concurs with the assessments, SmART is activated.
To date, the team has rescued 180 animals since officially becoming a team in 2009. Navarette said one of the most unusual rescues was a Monitor lizard that was stuck in a rain drainage pipe. The rescue began with an inspection camera, a drill, dremel tool, jig saw, and a shovel to remove the pipe. The team then took the pipe with the lizard inside to a veterinarian, where the lizard was tranquilized. The lizard was removed from the PVC pipe within minutes and taken to the shelter, where she was adopted days later.
The SmART team is the only team in Los Angeles and one of a very few national animal search and rescue teams for all animals, Navarette explained. He says it is the goal of his team to provide a one-of-a-kind service.
The types of rescues performed by SmART include: confined spaces rescues – going under houses or into attics; high elevation rescues, such as rooftops or trees; aquatic rescues – rescuing animals in lakes, the ocean or swimming pools; storm drain and sewer rescues for animals that have fallen down into manholes or into storm drains; and the Los Angeles River bed, cliff and natural terrain rescues.
SmART utilizes special equipment for rescues, including equipment for animal safety such as a CMC canine harness, muzzles, stretcher, carriers, nets and tarps. All these pieces of equipment are necessary to keep the animal and rescuer safe, especially if a rescue attempt is being made on an injured animal, Navarette noted.
Safety equipment for the officers include helmets, helmet lights, knee pads, rappel gloves, animal handling gloves, drysuits and fins.
Once a month, SmART meets to discuss the rescues handled the prior month and runs Mock Animal Rescue Scenario Training (MARS) drills. This training consists of Ropes, Anchors and Knots (RAK), along with specialized tactics for rescuing animals in extreme conditions. This training also includes Low Angle Rope Rescue Operational and Swiftwater Rescue, both certified by the National Fire Protection Association. The Mock Animals for Rescue Training Exercises (MARTE) are used for the mock animal rescue drills, and weigh approximately 20 to 40 pounds to simulate the weight of a real animal, and are placed in situations where real animals can get stuck, to help train the team to prepare for real life rescue operations, Navarette said.
Navarette was recently reassigned to the Northeast Shelter, which is not open to the public. Part of his new duties is to provide community outreach about SmaART and the other services available through the animal shelter.
Navarette can be reached directly at (213) 305-4095.
Videos of the team’s rescues are available online at: