Humans weren’t the only ones fighting for their lives during the October 2017 North Bay wildfires. One of my students examined how animal shelters responded. She also provided fire safety tips for pet and livestock owners:
By Marissa Perry
The devastation of the North Bay fires ravaged homes and destroyed businesses. Not only were the people of Sonoma County left alone and homeless, so were the animals. The number of animals displaced is not known, but shelters have taken in at least 145 animals, such as dogs, cats and farm life.
Shelters from around the Bay Area have collected items for animals in need, as well as taken in animals for care. The Napa, Sonoma and Solano county shelters filled up quickly after the fires occurred, which created a stir of volunteers and community members rallying together to help. Volunteers cared for the displaced animals by providing such things as beds, food, crates and toys. Numerous animals lost during the blaze were placed in the shelters for medical treatment and to hopefully be reunited with their families.
Wendy Taylor-Tanielian from the Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation worked to collect items for the animals. She says, “We have evacuated 115 shelter animals from the counties affected by the wildfires. These animals are already available for adoption in their home counties and received care for any treatments needed.”
Many of the animals that Taylor-Tanielian and the Tony La Russa workers cared for are now in their forever homes. La Russa’s shelter aided in creating space in Sonoma County’s shelter for the animals displaced from their homes in hopes they will be reunited with their family. Taylor-Tanielian provided Sonoma County with animal crates, burn creams and essential medication for the animals.
Lisa Bloch from the Marin Humane Society has accepted donations for the shelters and their animals. The Sonoma Humane Society has also accepted donations; they have also received hundreds of volunteers. Wendy Welling, with the Sonoma Humane Society and the North Bay Pets magazine says, “People from all over the state brought pet food, treats, collars, leashes, pet beds, crates, flea medicine and toys.”
The community members from all over the state wanted to ensure that the animals and displaced animal owners knew that they were loved and supported. The volunteer efforts around the county and state were especially high during the time of the fires. As early as December, there were still animals in the shelter, such as strays and other pets that were tragically separated from their owners.
Among those not in the zone of fires, they thought of their own pets at home and what they would need if in the same situation. Brentwood resident Suzan Ferrer drove down to Sonoma County to offer her services. Ferrer has owned horses and dogs since she was young and felt it was her duty to help. She says, “It was very smoky up there. We had ash falling on us as we helped to relocate all the horses. It was surprising that some people refused to evacuate and waited until firefighters got to the scene, which ends up being a high risk to the horses. It was very emotional for me, being a horse owner and seeing the horses spray-painted with numbers on their sides.”
Large animals were spray-painted so that owners such as Ferrer, who brought trailers, could load animals into them and take them to local rescue groups and shelters.
A common injury among pets lost in the wildfires were singed whiskers. The Sonoma Humane Society created an Instagram feed for lost animals where people could post and claim their lost pets. The animals that were burned or singed from the fires were given the proper medical care, such as creams and other burn treatments. The North Bay fires burned over 80,000 acres of land, including residential and farmland structures. The fires raged very quickly and gave residents little to no time to evacuate their animals. Microchips on pets have been the key reason as to how pets have been reunited so quickly with their owners. When you microchip a pet, the name of its owner and home address are put into a computer, so that when scanned, they can be properly located. Though some pets were badly burned, their families could find them and initiate the proper care.
The American Red Cross provides tips on how pet owners should prepare for fires breaking out at home. They have listed that it is crucial for family members to include their pets in their escape plan and to practice the escape plan with pets. It is also crucial in order to help firefighters help the pets. If you do not have time to evacuate and bring your pets with you, leave them close to an entryway in your home, in view for the firemen.
The Red Cross has been working alongside partners to provide the needs and comfort required for the animals. Everyone is welcome at the Red Cross shelters and they are still offering help to those families and animals affected by the fires. Despite the dire situation of the fires, animal shelters across the state have pulled through and provided exemplary assistance to the animal victims.