Not to dwell on the fire but there are so many incredible stories slowly coming forward that it’s clear it’s a subject still on everyone’s mind – and will be for quite a while. Every day on Facebook there’s another story of a dramatic escape and people doing heroics things to help neighbors. I love reading them as they are so uplifting in the face of so much tragedy. But hearing about the choices people had to make in a split second – like Sophie’s Choice – is heartbreaking. Stories about cats that hid, dogs that darted out the door and owners with no time to coax them back before fleeing the fire are very sad.
In addition to the grief of losing their pets, I’m sure there are people carrying around a lot of guilt right now due to these situations. We need to be gentle and supportive. Now is not the time to say things like, “I would never leave my pet behind.” Unless you have been in their exact situation you can’t even begin to guess how you would react given the dire circumstances. No one lightly chose to leave his or her pets behind – of that I’m sure. Not all pets were cooperative, and some were in their own panic mode. Given the short notice, the smoky, fiery conditions, the adrenaline and the need to make fast decisions, I applaud the people who could collect all their pets and get out in time. It was very impressive when a family came to the shelter with three children, two dogs, three cats and a rabbit in their car! We were happy to be able to offer a safe place for the animals so the family wouldn’t have to worry about them while they sought shelter.
There were two situations that I know of where after the people evacuated safely with their pets they each had one get away. To have gone through all that and then lose your animal would be a second dose of trauma. Fortunately, they ended up with a happy ending, which I will share.
Ann had to evacuate her home in Santa Rosa with five dogs and three cats and safely got them out of the house. She brought them to our shelter because we were offering free emergency boarding for fire evacuees. Unfortunately, as she was carrying one of her cats into our building the carrier broke open and the cat, named Mack, bolted to the back of our property and over the fence. We set traps and hoped to catch him but days went by and no luck. Ann created a flyer and posted it on every single apartment behind the shelter. After a long week, the groundskeeper there sighted Mack and showed Ann where he was hiding down a storm drain. Ann came day after day to try and coax Mack out and finally he started licking cat food off her fingers as she dangled them down the drain. On the third day, he came up to eat the food and Ann could grab him. He had been out on his own for almost two full weeks!
Renee also had to quickly flee her home and was staying in a synagogue that opened to evacuees with her four cats. One went missing and she wasn’t sure if he had slipped out the door or was just hiding in the building somewhere. Renee brought her other three cats to our shelter so that no one else would disappear but kept returning to the synagogue to call Charlie. After going back day after day for two weeks she again spent the night there and just sat softly talking to Charlie hoping he would respond. Sure enough she finally heard a little chirp coming from inside a wall! After realizing that Charlie was caught, Renee enlisted the aid of the local firefighters and they helped break through the wall. Charlie was dehydrated and fighting an infection but is back with his doting mother and fur-siblings. The moral of the story is not to give up! People don’t realize that a freaked-out cat just switches into survival mode and can hide in the smallest spot imaginable. We expect them to come to our voice like a dog, but if they are really shut down that doesn’t always work. Tuna, on the other hand, often does! Let’s keep sharing the happy endings!
No More Lost Pets – free microchips and pet ID tags for residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati City. Stop by the shelter during our open hours with your pet to get one! The shelter is open Wed 1-6:30 p.m., Thurs.-Fri-Sat 1-5:30 p.m. and Sun 1-4:30 p.m.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.