The Nelson Fires, February 2019.

This time last week I was in Nelson, at the Richmond Park Showgrounds, photographing the animal emergency centre managed by HUHA during the Nelson fires.

I have to admit, waiting at the airport for my flight I realized that I was starting to feel apprehensive.

The Nelson Pigeon Valley fire had already been burning for several days forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate with what they could load into their vehicles.

They needed to get themselves and their animals to safety. Unfortunately finding somewhere to stay if you have animals with you is not always the easiest.

As a fiercely protective cat mum, it fills me with absolute dread that I may have to hand my cats over to strangers in an emergency situation.

Sitting here writing this I feel slightly nauseous at the idea.

I was expecting to walk into the centre and be overwhelmed with feelings of stress, anxiety and fear.

I’m always being told that I am a sensitive person - I hate to see people upset. I especially get emotional when animals are in distress.

I began to worry that maybe I wasn’t the best person to be photographing the centre.

BUT - then I arrived at Richmond Park and it was like walking into a giant hug from your best friend.

People bringing animals in to be housed and cared for during the evacuation, were greeted with huge smiles and an amazing openness from the HUHA team and volunteers.

The centre was so well organised it was more like dropping your pet off to boarding kennels rather than a evacuation centre.

The dog section had a sleeping area for the night, and during the day, several large enclosed play areas had been set up for the dogs - fully stocked with toys, paddling pools and shade sails.

There were even dog walkers!

The team were constantly upgrading and evolving the centre - if there was an opportunity to make things less stressful or more comfortable for the animals then it was done.

People were encouraged to come and visit their animals during the stay with some pet parents taking their dogs out for walks to the beach, rabbit and cat owners coming in to have a cuddle and even a wonderful gentleman came in to milk his small herd of goats.

There was just this amazing feeling of community and kindness.

There was a wonderful team of volunteers that showed up each day to help with everything from cleaning out cages and building enclosures to checking every animal had shade and water.

When the cry went out for help in the centre it was all hands on deck. Even I put down my camera several times and mucked in.

There was also a huge response from the residents of Nelson with a steady stream of people arriving with trailers full of hay, willow branches, petfood, bedding and loads of baking for the humans.

And it was brilliant to see so many different organisations working together - HUHA, SPCA National Rescue Unit, MPI and Animal Evac NZ - all deserve a standing ovation.

To Carolyn and her HUHA team - you created a special haven for people and their animals during an event that would have been stressful and traumatizing for so many. Your knowledge in animal care and management, your patience, ingenuity and empathy truly shone through.

And you all give awesome hugs x.