Staying strong together: Humans and animals in the California wildfires  

Sarah Rae Murray is a writer, former veterinary practice receptionist and an advocate for all animals. 

If you’ve followed the news over the past month, you’re aware of the devastation in California. Combined, the Woolsey and Camp wildfires have burned nearly 250,000 acres of land. The Camp Fire burning in Butte County, is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history. This tragedy impacts both the humans and animals that call these areas home.

From disasters of this magnitude emerge stories of hope and help. Here are a few powerful accounts of people helping animals, and animals helping people, during a time of immense loss:

The paradise horse:

Paradise resident, Jeff Hill, returned after the evacuation to check if a neighbour’s home was still intact. Instead, he came across an unexpected scene—a horse in a backyard swimming pool. Shaken and shivering, the mare’s head was kept above water by the pool cover. In a Facebook post, Hill wrote that the horse was grateful to be rescued and led out of the water, “She got out, shook off, loved on us for a few minutes as a thank you and walked off assuring us that she was ok.” Hill stayed with the horse until she was taken safely outside the fire zone. The horse’s incredible resourcefulness and will to survive got her into that pool, and away from the flames, but Hill’s genuine compassion ultimately saved her life.

The on-duty canines:

Dogs have played invaluable roles in this tragedy, mitigating the physical and emotional ruins left by the wildfires.

During the early days of the Camp Fire, the count of those missing numbered more than 1000. By Nov. 25, that total was 249. Search and rescue dogs continue to seek out survivors, human and animal. Cadaver dogs, which are trained to help their handlers locate the deceased, have also been enlisted to find fatalities of the fires, giving loved ones the answers they need to find peace and properly mourn. 

In the shelters and encampments that house people displaced by the wildfires, emergency responders and their K9 partners visit to offer emotional support to evacuees. In a time of uncertainty and heartache, the unconditional affection of a dog can provide a moment of much needed comfort.

The airport animal shelter:

In the wake of the Camp Fire, the Chico Municipal Airport has become the unlikely site of a makeshift animal shelter. The airport has become a temporary haven for displaced cats, dogs, reptiles, rabbits, ducks, chickens, and more. They’ve even taken in hermit crabs. Volunteers work around the clock to care for the animals and to try to reunite pets with their families. The nature of this disaster presents a difficult challenge—many are able to identify their pets but don’t know if they have a home to take them back to. Despite the uncertainty of the circumstances, reuniting people with their pets gives them back a piece of their home and a beloved member of their family. Together they can begin to heal and rebuild.

Cal Fire. “Incident Information: Current Fire Information.” State of California, 2018, Web.

Jackson, Amanda. “California communities rally to save animals caught in wildfires.” CNN, 2018, Web.

Steinmetz, Katy. “One Goes Out, Two Come In. Inside the Makeshift Shelter Where Pets Await Their Owners After the Wildfires.” TIME, 2018, Web.

Taylor, Alan. “The Animals of California’s Devastating Camp Fire.” The Atlantic, 2018, Web.

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