Cowboy 911 Animal Rescue
By Enjoy Magazine
Head em’ Up, Move em’ Out
Story by Aaron Williams
Photos by James Mazzotta, main trailer photo courtesy of Justin Jones
WHAT DO YOU GET when you combine old fashioned Western values with modern-day social media? A match called Cowboy 911.
The Facebook group was the brainchild of Red Bluff horse trainer Justin Jones, who started it last summer on a drive home from grocery shopping in Chico.
He and girlfriend Jill Pierre were on Highway 99 and noticed an elderly couple along the side of the road with a horse trailer that had blown a tire. It was Fourth of July weekend, Jones says; the temperatures had soared past 100 degrees, and the couple didn’t have the right tool to change the tire.
“They said they’d called for assistance, but it was going to be a couple of hours,” he says, noting the holiday weekend had created a backlog for service. “It was really hot and there were horses in the back of the trailer.”
Jones looked in his truck and found the right tool to change the tire and got the couple back on the road. The experience in paying it forward got Jones thinking.
“I probably knew five guys within five miles that would’ve dropped everything to help them,” he says.
He and Pierre then started a Facebook page dedicated to “the horse, ag and animal community.”
The group’s description reads, in part: “This is a group dedicated to helping farmers, ranchers, horsemen in immediate need of assistance. We ask that if you join, please be willing to help your fellow American … In return the members of the group should be willing to do the same for each other, because it’s the right thing to do! The cowboy way.
“Helping another is its own reward. Let's get back to neighbors helping neighbors. After all, we are all friends and neighbors here!”
“I had no idea it would get close to what it’s become,” Jones says of the 19,000-member-strong online group.
Of course, no one in the North State could really imagine that two catastrophic wildfires would touch the lives of so many in Redding and Paradise.
But that’s the beauty of what Cowboy 911 is about – finding a need and filling it through 21st century technology.
“Less than a week after we began this thing, the Carr Fire came and we all watched it unfold,” he says.
As the fire spread, Jones noticed it turning toward Happy Valley one morning.
“Growing up in a feed store in south Redding, I know all the back roads and ranches out there,” Jones says. “I know a lot of people needed help and probably wouldn’t be able to get their animals out.”
He posted on Cowboy 911 and by the time he got near Happy Valley, there were 45 trucks and trailers assembled ready to start evacuating livestock and help in other ways, as well. “People literally dropped what they were doing to come help,” Jones says. “People would post ‘this is where I’m at and what I need’ and people would go get them.”
And it didn’t stop at rescue missions, as Cowboy 911 participants opened three large animal evacuation centers in Red Bluff and Corning. Ranchers who couldn’t help with evacuation came with feed, water buckets, hoses, manure racks. Others offered to clean stalls and help with veterinarian care.
“It worked so efficiently,” Jones says of the real-time interface of Facebook. “And it’s perfect because everyone can choose their level of involvement.”
Jones didn’t look too far into the future for Cowboy 911 and figured it would grow organically, knowing that “people would always be there to help.”
And then on Nov. 8, the town of Paradise and its surrounding communities were devastated by the Camp Fire.
“At first, the county didn’t want us there, but we worked with Representative Doug LaMalfa and Butte County Supervisor Steve Lambert who called a meeting and said, ‘These guys can get the job done,’” Jones says.
They did. More than 400 trucks and trailers showed up to evacuate 5,000 animals with help coming from as far away as Idaho, Wisconsin, Las Vegas and Arizona.
“They just showed up with their hearts and said ‘I’m here to help,’” Jones says.
And that, he says, is the power of Cowboy 911, which has members in states stretching across the nation.
“That’s what we’ve stressed is that it’s neighbor helping neighbor,” Jones says, “whether it’s the person next door to you, in the next town or next state.”
And for Jones, it’s offered him a renewed sense in the goodness of people.
“I put a lot of thought in it; I’m not a guy who’d normally start a Facebook group,” Jones says. “God really called me to do this; it was a higher power calling to do this. It’s not really the sort of thing I would typically do. But it’s renewed my faith in humanity.” •
Find Cowboy 911 on Facebook