I’m sure the irony of the fires happening in a city named Paradise has not been lost on you. Really makes you wonder what the world is coming to when Paradise burns down! I, and another staff member, Conner Cimmiyotti, just returned from three days spent helping out animal control in Butte County and we saw first hand the devastation. I had also spent a day in Santa Rosa after last year’s fire so I had the benefit of being a little prepared for what we saw.
The key thing that sticks in my mind was how random and unpredictable fire can be. We were driving through an area completely obliterated and then would see one house standing, completely intact, seemingly unaffected. We went to one home to check on the chickens; the house and everything around it was completely gone except the coop, which didn’t have a burn mark on it and the chickens were fine. Lucky chickens, huh?
The first day we went the rain was so bad there were flash flood warnings so they didn’t let anyone go out in the field. Instead we went to one of the makeshift animal shelters and walked dogs and gave them some attention. The next two days were spent looking for lost pets, feeding those that had been left behind and bringing pet food to residents who remained in their homes but were short on supplies. It is a very strange feeling to enter someone's home (one house we had to crawl through a window in the back!) and care for their pets. We’re honored to have their trust and did our best to earn it – cleaning litterboxes, filling water bowls and replenishing food dishes.
Not surprising, there was a ton of paperwork to document each place we visited – notes about what, if any, animals we saw; if the food was eaten; any other signs of life we may have observed; and any contact we may have had with the owners. It is a massive undertaking and it’s going to continue for several months at least.
The biggest need is for trained officers to handle the volume of calls for service that is piling up. But the animal emergency shelters also need volunteers to help care for all the animals. The agency helping to vet the hundreds of offers of assistance is Caring Choices and can be reached at http://www.caring-choices.org/camp-fire.html or by calling 866-703-3873. Right now they are prioritizing volunteers that live locally since the displaced residents need all the available housing and hotels in the area.
Conner and I were able to stay at the Base Camp, which is, I believe, a National Guard training camp. I have renewed respect for the men and women in the National Guard that’s for sure! Although not primitive, the camp was definitely “rustic” – port-a-potties, narrow hard cots, 10 beds per tent, etc. At least the tents had a solid floor and some heat! Three women who shared my tent were there from AmeriCorps and were assigned to assist at the animal shelter for the next three weeks. It’s so great to know that these groups are available – along with animal welfare professionals from shelters and agencies across the state (and other states as well) willing to come to the aid of an area hit with a disaster like this.
Although we were only there for a few days it was a great experience to be part of an effort as big as this. We met many very committed and compassionate men and women and were very impressed with the efforts made to help the people and animals of Butte County.
“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed. 1-6:30; Thurs.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30; Sun. 1-4:30.
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 email@example.com.