On Sept. 12, 2015, the Valley Fire began raging on its destructive path. Estimated to be the third worst wildfire in California’s history, it burned over 76,000 acres and destroyed over 1,900 buildings. What this catastrophe could not destroy, however, was human compassion. As residents were evacuated from their homes, they had to make quick decisions about what to grab. Many were able to gather up their four-legged family members and flee to safety. Others who couldn’t get to their homes were left wondering if their beloved pets had survived.
The thought of facing such uncertainty unprepared to care for one’s pets — or worse, not knowing their whereabouts during a crisis — resulted in an empathetic outpouring of support from animal lovers in surrounding communities. A $5,000 grant from the Petfinder Foundation’s Disaster Fund enabled the Sonoma Humane Society to: channel public support and donations to where they were needed most, mobilize at the Napa Fairgrounds evacuation site to provide support directly to victims and their pets, and to shelter and care for animals displace by the fire. We are so grateful for your generosity, which let us expand our safety net to help our Lake County neighbors in their time of need.
Sonoma Humane Society Staff Fire Relief Effort
Even though we operate in a county adjacent to where the fires raged, every single department of our organization was impacted by it. The highest expenditures for our organization during the emergency came from the hours that our staff tracked directly to the fire relief efforts. The following is a summary of the work performed.
• Coordinated and scheduled volunteers to help at evacuation sites.
• Worked with volunteers on-site at evacuation center (Napa Fairgrounds) to help distribute pet food and supplies, and to “pet sit” so owners could go fill out paperwork or get information.
• Gathered information from other agencies on other ways we could help.
• Coordinated donation flow of supplies; scheduled and coordinated volunteers to accept and organize fire rescue donations at our campus, as well as volunteers to pick up and distribute donations to various drop-off sites.
• Corresponded with numerous agencies in our own and other counties about how we could share volunteers and resources and combine efforts to help.
• Handled large volume of incoming phone calls, emails and in-person inquiries from the community of people wanting to volunteer or foster animals. Worked with Foster Department to channel appropriate foster volunteers to them.
• Fielded outpouring of social media messages offering help.
• Compiled lost and found pet information from myriad rescue groups, veterinarians and other agencies for online access, and in binder format which could be updated daily and brought to evacuation site.
• Compiled resources of different animal welfare fire relief efforts including equine needs.
• Updated our website with breaking information on specific ways public could help.
• SHS Director of Shelter Medicine worked in veterinary rescue efforts during Hurricane Katrina. She was instrumental in setting up registration and scheduling system to mobilize local veterinarians, Registered Veterinary Technicians and assistants for 24-hour support of Lake County shelters and veterinarian hospitals.
• Facilitated moving animals in need of acute medical care to our veterinary partners in our local communities.
• Organized mobile triage unit at evacuation center dispensing medical assistance, flea medications, vaccinations and nail trims for animals in-need.
• Oversaw shelter hospital intake to our shelter of stray and surrendered animals from Lake County shelters and veterinarians. Assessed condition of patients and planned medical care accordingly.
Behavior and Training
SHS Behavior and Training Director offered direct pet-related support to victims of the Valley Fire. At the evacuation site she went from tent to tent, car to car, asking people what they needed to care for their pets.
• Visited over 500 people living in tents and cars at the evacuation site to determine what they needed to care for over 400 pets; monitored throughout week.
• Identified individual needs and directed to appropriate resources.
• Distributed x-pens for families at site so that their pets could have fresh air while remaining in enclosed safety.
• Coordinated distribution of food, beds, leashes, harnesses, crates, bowls and assistance as needed to evacuees.
• Directly involved in ensuring that if pets were in need of veterinary care that they received it.
• Helped to trap and relocate cats once residents were allowed back on their properties.
Foster Care Program
• First day of fire: Responded to initial calls from people offering to foster displaced or injured animals. Coordinated with rescue groups to take in dogs in need. Made arrangements to have fosters come in for emergency orientation, fill out paperwork and pick up dogs. We were able to get dogs into foster homes that same evening.
• As fire progressed: Fielded outpouring of emails and phone calls from people wanting to foster; coordinated volunteers to aid in responding to phone messages and get more information from callers; created files to organize all the specific information we were receiving and to pair animals with best suited fosters as crisis evolved.
• Communicated with SHS staff and our partners who were at evacuation site for updates on situation. Supported new foster parents by offering a direct communication and information.
• Oversaw team member to hold emergency foster orientation for interested public to attend.
• Fielded calls from concerned citizens and directed callers to appropriate resources and current efforts. Estimated 50-100 calls per day relating to the Valley Fire during the first three weeks of crisis.
• Accepted and sorted donations of pet food and supplies at our campus.
• Directed volunteers in delivering donations to evacuation sites.
• Coordinated picking up of donations.
• Accepted monetary donations and routed to SHS administration.
Lives forever changed/individual animals helped: We are so grateful for the support of the Petfinder Foundation, which enabled our team to respond quickly to the needs of our Lake County neighbors and their pets. As the Lake County community begins to rebuild their lives after this unprecedented event, we are happy to report that most of the homeless animals we took in during the Valley Fire rescues are now beginning new lives of their own in forever homes. Here are just a few of the animals we provided a fresh start for
Autumn: a sweet, sensitive 11-month-old orange tabby was transferred to us by one of our partners. She was suffering from a severe ear-mite infestation. We treated her mites and provided spay surgery. Then we helped her find a quiet home where she could thrive as the only cat. Autumn was adopted on Oct. 19, 2015.
Darwin arrived at SHS congested and sneezing. We treated him for an upper respiratory infection and ear mites. Once the handsome 3-year-old was healthy and strong enough, he was neutered and then made available for adoption. We are happy to report that Darwin found his forever home on Nov. 22, 2015.
Jeff (the kitten) was named after Jeff (the PG&E worker) who found him wandering as a stray in Middletown during the fires. The beautiful seal point kitten was just a few weeks old when he came into our care. A medical exam revealed that his lungs were clear but he was mildly dehydrated, had tummy troubles and fleas. We treated his medical issues and placed him in foster care until he was old enough to be neutered. On Oct. 27, 2015, Jeff was adopted into a loving home.
Ace: At nearly 2 years old, the handsome Pit Bull mix arrived with ear problems and tapeworms. After stabilizing in foster care for a few days, Ace was neutered and made available for adoption. Our staff was impressed by his sweet personality, and so was his adopter. The two have been inseparable since Oct. 22, 2015.