December 12, 2017
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Providing temporary shelter for animals

  • Photographed are small flock of sheep being housed at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue due to the recent fires.

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
November 17, 2017

In the wake of the devastating wildfires last month, many animals were also left homeless, if not lost or injured. Thankfully, local organizations quickly stepped up to provide temporary shelter for pets and livestock, from dogs and cats, to tortoises, bunnies and sheep, while their owners found new places to live. They also reunited lost animals with their owners, and treated injured pets and wildlife as well.

The Rohnert Park Animal Shelter had 111 animals come in to be temporarily boarded, mainly dogs and cats, in addition to one bunny. One family had to surrender their three dogs. However, to date all but three dogs have been reunited with their owners who found new accommodations. 

Strays that are being found and appear to be lost due to the firestorm, are being brought to either the Sonoma County Humane Society or to Sonoma County Animal Services. Two cats that had visible burns were brought to the Humane Society since their facility has a comprehensive veterinary clinic and is able to treat injuries.

“It’s hard enough for people to find their lost pets,” says Mickey Zeldes, Supervisor of the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. “If they were spread out throughout all the shelters it would be very difficult for them. We’re trying to keep all the strays consolidated so that people have only two places to go look.”

In order to accommodate the large number of evacuated or displaced animals, the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter transferred their existing 60 animals that were up for adoption to other shelters in outlying areas not effected by the fire activity. That, along with cohabitating some of the animals that came in together and getting creative with dividing up dog runs and cat cages, gave them enough space with room to spare to provide temporary shelter to the many pets. 

“We only cohabitated those animals that came in together – we didn’t try to do any matchmaking here,” says Zeldes. “Since these were owned animals, there is obviously some liability if they didn’t get along. Somebody brought in five tiny Chihuahuas and they could all be in one kennel together. In fact, they all cuddled together – it was very cute. They needed each other.”

The Animal Shelter had overwhelming support by the community. By the second day after the fires, Zeldes recalls having stacks of dog food six feet high in the lobby. They finally had to tell people to stop because they couldn’t store it all. She also updated the shelter’s needs on their Facebook page and requested cleaning products. Within days she had 90 rolls of paper towels and enough bleach to last into next year. 

“I love our community – how generous,” Zeldes said. “People wanted to help. People also wanted to volunteer.”

For liability reasons, untrained volunteers weren’t allowed to handle the animals but Zeldes hated turning anyone away. So she asked people if they could take a bag of laundry home to wash. For three weeks people came everyday to do laundry. 

The shelter can always use more volunteers and the next volunteer orientation will most likely be after the holidays. Interested individuals can submit an application at the shelter or online at Monetary donations are also always appreciated, as well as Kuranda beds, which are cleanable and are able to be disinfected for cats. 18 were donated during the past month, but the shelter can use more. 

Over 500 lost pets were reported last month and Zeldes reminds pet owners that micro chipping their animals is the best way to ensure that a lost pet is returned. Especially in a disaster like this where a pet can be injured or burned, having a micro chip is the best way to also know if a pet is yours.

“What the Humane Society and the county are dealing with especially are the singed strays,” says Zeldes. “We sent two cats up to the Humane Society and one was a short-haired gray cat found in the Coffey park area. We had at least four families come to look. It was then transferred and more came to look. How many people lost a basic gray cat in the Coffey park area and how do you know whose this is without a micro chip? Especially if they were singed or covered with soot or they were dirty – how do you recognize your gray cat from any other gray cat? So absolutely the most important thing to do is get a microchip.” 

The Rohnert Park Animal Shelter believes so strongly in micro chipping pets that they have offered this service for free to pet owners for years. 

The Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue took in a flock of 13 sheep, three huge African tortoises, rabbits and a cockatoo. They also took in some dogs and cats. To date all animals are back with their owners other than the flock of sheep, which the center is graciously boarding until their owner can take them back. 

The wildlife rescue also had a few burned wild animals come in, including a bobcat kitten that unfortunately could not be saved, and a fox with burned paws who is expected to recover. Many domestic doves have been coming into the center as well, which leads center staff to believe that perhaps they were released by their owners during the fire.

“We had some burn victims that were directly impacted by the fire and then we also had many, many birds that didn’t come in burned or singed,” says Desiree McGunagle, Volunteer and Community Support Coordinator for the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. “We had an unusual amount of bird intakes and we think that they were an indirect response to the fire because they were having some confusion.”

Like the animal shelter, the wildlife rescue got an overwhelming amount of community support, with people bringing in donations, or volunteering to help.

“During that week of the fire, I’ve never gotten more people calling in, even people that have never even been here, asking what they can do,” says McGunagle. “People were asking when they could come in and help, or asking what we needed. We had so many generous people from the public bringing us donations. Even though it was a really terrible time it was very beautiful too because we got to see a lot of helpful people step up. A majority of times the people that stepped up were the people that lost everything.”

The Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue is still in need of monetary donations, since their wildlife exclusion service and barn owl maintenance program the majority of their income – has been severely stalled by the recent fires. Donations can be made online at