KENT COUNTY, Mich. — In December, about ten Michigan animal shelters and the Bissell Pet Foundation planned a trip to Arkansas to rescue as many dogs as they could from a humane society struggling to keep up with the amount of animals they were taking in.
"They just don’t have the resources to care for the number of animals they’re getting in there, and even while we were there, dogs were still being dropped off as we were trying to pull them out of there," said Angela Miedema who was representing Humane Animal Treatment Society in Mt. Pleasant.
The team was able to load up 62 dogs to bring back to Michigan where they would have new hope at finding a forever home. But the drive back took a scary turn just south of Chicago.
"A car came flying past us and they were going way too fast and hit the one in front of them and then it was a multi-car pileup where a semi actually ended up hitting an SUV and then that one flipped," Miedema said.
The crew hauling the dogs was not involved in the pileup, but they were right behind it. Miedema didn't panic. She safely pulled over, made sure everyone in the van was okay, and then sprang into action.
"I ran over to the vehicle because it was flipped over. And I just kind of tried yelling out 'Are you okay in there? How many people do you have with you?'" she said.
The driver was the only person in the SUV. She was hanging upside down and couldn't get out. Fluids began leaking from the vehicle. Luckily, another good Samaritan had arrived on the scene with tools.
"He was able to break one of the farthest back windows and he was hoisting me up and I just kind of helped unlock the doors so we could open up her front doors and get her up and out of there," Miedema said.
The team was able to get the woman to safety until an ambulance arrived. Miedema isn't sure what happened to her after the accident, but doesn't believe her injuries were life threatening.
"I really hope she’s healthy and doing alright," she said.
Miedema says she probably wouldn't have known what to do in that situation if not for the training she received during her two years with the Kent County Traffic Squad, which is an organization made up of volunteers.
"I don’t think a lot of people realize that there’s a really large group at the Kent County Sheriff’s Office that are reserve officers, that they can call upon and we’ve all had to go through hundreds of hours of training," she said.
That training covers everything from de-escalation to firearms training. Traffic Squad Captain Don DeGroot says the training academy is four hours per night, two nights per week, for six months.
"Each individual in the unit has the servant mentality. They have an interest in law enforcement and they have a true interest in giving back to the community," DeGroot said.
He wasn't surprised to hear the news that Miedema was able to help rescue the woman from the SUV.
"Training kicked in. It becomes second nature," he said.
"That’s what we prepare for. You hope you never have to see it, but when it does happen, we want to be ready for it."
DeGroot says he'll miss Miedema now that she's moving on to a new chapter in her life. On Friday, she moved to Florida to take a job as executive director at an animal shelter where she feels she can help around 5,000 more animals per year than she is now.
It's just continuing to look for opportunities to do more and be more effective and I think that’s going to create an even bigger impact so I’m very excited about that," she said.
The Traffic Squad is always looking for new volunteers, especially now that Miedema is gone. You can find an application on their website.
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