Animal shelters in Sonoma and Napa county are flooded with displaced pets due to the recent devastating fires.
The fires, which have destroyed an estimated 5,700 buildings, are still not completely contained, according to state officials. Thousands of families have been forced to leave their homes, many of which don’t have homes to come back to.
The animal shelters in the area are now, finally, able to begin looking at how to properly take care of and re-home all the animals they have taken in over the last two weeks, but that task is fraught with difficulty.
“The real work is just begging to take place,” John Skeel, the director of Sonoma County Animal Services said. The shelter has to remain open 24/7 so the community can use their services.
Families are just starting to look for their pets, and the shelter is providing services to help locate lost animals, as well as safe traps to help people catch escaped pets.
But, neither of those tasks are without challenges. The SCAS has made a Facebook page to help locate lost animals, but consolidating all of the information is more difficult than it appears.
“People create their own Facebook pages, and it makes it difficult for us to keep track of which pets have and have not been found,” Skeel said.
The animal service requests that people do not make their own facebook pages, nor should they report missing animals for other people, in order to try and reduce the risk of duplicated missing animal postings.
Placing all of the pets back with their respective homes is only a small fraction of the work that needs to be done to help these pets. Many people who have lost their homes have also lost all of the materials needed to properly care for their pets.
“We’ve had generous donations of food, crates, beds, leads, and more that we are working to distribute to people,” Skeel said.
Additionally, the service has 40 trained veterinarians on hand to help care for injured animals.
However, all of those are merely short term solutions. A tragedy of this magnitude is nearly unheard of in the North Bay’s history, according to CalFire. The Tubbs fire, only one of the 14 that burned through the region, is said to be the most devastating in state history. And as such, rebuilding efforts will take years.
“This crisis has affected more pets than people, and the county will have to decide how many resources they want to dedicate in the long term,” Skeel said.
Wendy Welling, the director of community and customer relations for the Sonoma Humane Society, is concerned about the long term effects of the fire.
“Unfortunately, some families will have to surrender their pets,” Welling said.
As families move, a lot of them may not be able to take their pets with them. For those living in hotels, many of them are not pet friendly. In addition, families may have to change from owning a home to renting new houses or apartments that are not pet friendly.
Shelters set up networks of fosters to help temporarily relocate pets, but that will not work for some.
Linda Larson used to volunteer to foster pets, but even that comes with heavy emotional costs, especially in light of the devastation. “We will never do it again, it’s too heartbreaking,” Larson said. “But, thank goodness there are people who can do it.”
This crisis will have long term effects, but for now, for people looking to help, shelters are looking for volunteers to help foster animals, as well as donations to help families with pets get back on their feet.