'Heart of a lion': 4-H'er jumps in to rescue Clackamas County animals

MILWAUKIE, Ore. – Sela Raisl lives on a poultry farm, so she knows her way around chickens, ducks and turkeys.

But in her eight years as a 4-H member with the Oregon State University Extension Service, Raisl had never handled a goose. Until last week.

Last Thursday, 16-year-old Raisl volunteered to help rescue livestock from a rural Clackamas County farm that was being threatened by the Riverside Fire. There, amidst the smoke and ash, she found herself face to face with four geese that needed to be escorted from a fenced-in yard and into a waiting trailer that would take the birds to safety at the Clackamas County Fair and Event Center.

Whoever coined the phrase “mad as a goose,” wasn’t exaggerating.

“Geese can be a little scary,” Raisl said. “This was a new experience for me. When we were herding them into the trailer, we got them into a group. But getting them out, you have to put your hand around their neck area and keep their head down.”

She wasn't bitten or scratched. But once the geese were in their cages at the fairgrounds, “they were hissing at me,” Raisl said.

Raisl is a senior member of the Fuzzy Squad 4-H Club in Clackamas County. At about 4 p.m. on Thursday, her family got a call from club leader Karen O’Neil, who asked to borrow their horse trailer for an animal rescue effort.

“There was going to be more than 70 animals at one stop,” O’Neil said. “So, the Raisls generously loaned us the trailer. When I pulled in to hook up, there was Sela, decked out in her 4-H gear, water bottle in hand, ready to jump in the truck and go. I was so shocked. Without even the slightest waver she was all in.”

Sela Raisl said she understood from O’Neil’s request that there would be a lot of animals to pick up, and that O’Neil would need assistance. She also thought about the people they were going to help.

“I always think that when people are in trouble and they are struggling you can help them,” she said. “If you have hands and you have feet, you can help.”

With ash falling “like light snow” all around them and the smoke so thick it made breathing difficult, the group rescued nine rabbits, five turkeys, three guinea fowl and a “good amount of chickens,” including a rooster, another bird notorious for its temper.

“That rooster was running around a little bit, but he didn’t give me any trouble,” she said.

“Sela went into action and wrangled frightened and untamed animals with grace and confidence,” O’Neil said. “It put the families leaving their homes behind at ease. They knew they were in good hands.”

When they got to the fairgrounds, the threat level in the area had increased. People were leaving. Without hesitation, Raisl went to work, helping families that were there unload their animals.

“Again, her kind confidence really helped to calm the harried nerves of families who had lost everything,” O’Neil said. “Once the families were gone, Sela and her brother, Lewis, cleaned the cages and prepared the barn for the 70 animals we’d brought. She jumped in the trailer and carefully handed the uncaged animals out to the volunteers one at a time. She just kept going.”

When the biggest of the birds was ready to move — a 50-plus pound turkey, O’Neil said Sela walked with it carefully and then plucked it up and carried it to the safety of its cage.

“And on and on she went, until all 300-plus animals in our care were safely housed, cleaned, watered and fed,” O’Neil said. “Sela has the heart of a lion.”

At around dusk, they realized that one of the pheasants had escaped from the trailer. Sela grabbed a net and went out to look for it with Lewis, who is 12.

“We got lucky. We saw movement up by one of the bigger buildings,” Sela Raisl said. “The pheasant was running between tables and boxes of fruit that had been donated. We trapped it behind the bananas. I dove and grabbed its foot as it lunged to go behind the rest of the boxes.”

Sela Raisl said that after all they had been through that day, she didn’t want to lose that bird.

“I look at all these animals and I think about how they’ve been displaced,” she said. “Their owners are struggling because they might have lost their houses and their farms. It just breaks my heart to hear about these people who lost the animals they’ve worked hard and taken care of. We can give them a moment to relax and not stress out, because people are helping.”

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