Pet Talk: Animal rescues galore, and a miracle, in Colo. wildfire

Pet Talk: Animal rescues galore, and a miracle, in Colo. wildfire

06 October 2010

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USA —  Without a moment’s warning, the wildfire ignited. Then it raged. Day after ugly day in the hills west of Boulder, Colo.

And as always happens when a community suffers a natural disaster — flooding, tornado, hurricane, and, yes, wildfires — hundreds, often thousands, of pets need rescue, or at least attention, if there’s any chance of their coming out on the other side OK.

And every once in awhile, even as awful losses mount, plans come together as they should. Hard work happens, hearts open, and the result is far better than one might have imagined possible.

Such was the case last month during the wildfire near Boulder.

It started on Labor Day morning in Fourmile Canyon, about 11 o’clock, fast and furious. Hundreds of people were evacuated, many of them with pets. Within two hours, some of those people were arriving at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, asking for pet-care help. They were taking temporary lodging with friends or family who couldn’t accommodate animals, or they were going to a shelter (and at that point, a pet-friendly one hadn’t been set up, though one was later). HSBV’s limited holiday staff was augmented to help with intake.

By the next day, says Lisa Pedersen, CEO of HSBV, it was clear this fire wouldn’t be controlled soon. The decision was made to shift to other shelters some of the animals that had been at HSBV sufficiently long that they were ready for adoption. That made room for pets of people who were burned out or evacuated, as well as rescued from the flame-filled canyon. The nearby Denver Dumb Friends League had offered to take some, and the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, 100 miles away, was contacted. Both sent trucks to pick up animals (20 in all).

For the better part of a week, the Boulder shelter provided temporary housing for 50 or more animals from the fire zone at any given time (and the Longmont shelter 15 miles away was going through much the same). Some pets would get picked up by fire-affected owners who had found a place to stay and wanted, if nothing else, their animals. More would arrive because of the “rolling evacuation” necessitated by shifting winds and fire paths. Dogs, cats, birds and ferrets were brought in by evacuated owners or by animal control when a new area was put under evacuation orders.

The fire charred 6,200 acres and burned 169 structures, including the homes of some firefighters. It was a nasty event from which some will spend years recovering.

For all the hard work of the shelter staff — the long hours, the alterations to the routine to accommodate every animal in need, the extra work to care for them, the frantic calls from owners whose animals had gone missing in the chaos — there was an additional indisputable factor that made this all come together well for the animals: a community that cared. People who had learned that the fire-affected humans were being tended to turned their attention to the animals.

They called by the hundreds to lend a hand or offer to foster pets (more, really, than could be used); dozens walked dogs or helped with cleanup, some were assigned to accept the thousands of pounds of pet food, toys, kitty litter and dog beds dropped off dawn-to-dusk by the community. Those donations were distributed to evacuees, those who had lost their homes and those who were staying in the pet-friendly evacuee center so that “after all they’d lost, keeping and caring for their pets was one thing they didn’t have to worry about,” says Pedersen.

But, of course, dealing with fallout from the fire wasn’t the only job the shelter had. Non-fire-related animals in need arrived as always, brought in by animal control, dropped off by owners bored with them. “We continued to maintain all of our operations as usual,” says Pedersen.

The fire even spawned the requisite miracle. A badly burned black tomcat was picked up near the fire, and vets set about fixing the cat they named Sizzle. Some publicity ensued, and a woman realized Sizzle looked like her cat Morgan, who had gone missing a month earlier in Denver, 50 miles away. A vet tech confirmed the cat’s identity by locating a scar from an old injury the owner said would be there if it was Morgan. Woman and cat were happily reunited (though the mystery of how he wound up in the midst of a wildfire miles from home was never solved).

Sizzle/Morgan aside, it’s the kind of thing that could happen anywhere — not only the disaster, but the synchronized response that helped the animals and kept up the spirits of the devastated people who love them. It’d be nice if we all remember this when calamity strikes close to our towns.

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