When we received the phone call at 10:30 PM on November 8 from Yuba County Office of Emergency Services we couldn’t have imagined what the next 23 days would be like.
That call wasn’t the first time Yuba and County of Sutter Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has asked FieldHaven to set up an evacuation shelter for a disaster. FieldHaven has years of experience with working disasters with three partner counties; Placer County Animal Services, Yuba and Sutter. This wasn’t our first rodeo.
But it certainly has been the biggest. People who were at Katrina have told me that Katrina pales in comparison to the Camp Fire.
The reason FieldHaven is called in to help with sheltering cats during a disaster is twofold; we are cat experts and we are very experienced at setting up emergent shelters for cats. We have a team of staff and volunteers that cover best practices in all aspects of shelter housing, veterinary care, enrichment, owner care, data tracking, trapping, recovery and close-of-incident solutions for those cats that immediately can’t go back with their owners.
While we have all this knowledge and experience it could not be done without our community and professional partners. It starts with Yuba and Sutter OES. Working under their direction is always a pleasure. They provide us whatever we need and are the utmost professionals. Our veterinary staff, including our Shelter Veterinarian, Dr. Heather Kennedy. Dr. Berta Peterson provided oversight of the animals at the emergent shelter. When we were asked to shelter several exotics we recognized that is not our area of expertise so Dr. Mira Sanchez provided oversight to their care. Dr. Kyle Mathis DVM of Yuba College Vet Tech Program helped with treatments of cats with injuries/illnesses not requiring hospitalization. Northpointe Veterinary Hospital provided emergency care for several animals in the shelter.
The RVTs and Veterinary Assistants kept each and every animal under their constant watch. We had staff or volunteers in the shelter 24 hours a day. Bradshaw Animal Shelter not only provided their disaster trailer for supplies but sent staff for overnight care on many of the nights we were there. A designated shelter manager was on premises 24/7.
Over 100 emergent volunteers bustled about all day and night making sure every person that walked through the door received undivided attention, every cat that needed some enrichment time had just the right amount of love, all the laundry was done and about a thousand other tasks.
After the initial intake of animals with owners in shelters, first responder rescuers began bringing us cats with the authorization of the governing organizations. About 9 days after the fire teams of FieldHaven staff and volunteers were authorized to go in to rescue animals.
This continued until Thanksgiving Eve when authorizations were pulled for all groups. Since that time a political powerplay has ensued, preventing FieldHaven and other very experienced trappers from continuing to save animals.
Reuniting owners with their rescued cats is the pinnacle of joy at a disaster shelter. Each time a rescued cat came to the shelter we would get to work searching for the owner. Powered by a legion of Facebook volunteers who spend hours attempting to match up “lost” postings with “found” cats. Seeing the smiles and tears on the face of owners as they are reunited is the very best reward of all.
Our main supporting partner, Alley Cat Allies provided funds for operating the shelter and beyond. When Becky Robinson arrived on November 12 the first thing she said is “these cats need some clean air”. The air quality and smoke was horrible even in the air-conditioned building we were in. The next day we had super powered air filters for the shelter. ACA supported our efforts throughout the sheltering period. It is truly an honor to work with them.
Dechra Veterinary Products donated veterinary supplies, food, litter and other pet supplies arrived by carload, our online shoppers sent boxes of needed supplies, area restaurants helped feed the volunteers. The outpouring of community has been heart lifting.
Found Animals Foundation donated microchips so that all animals leaving the shelter have a chip now. Of all of the cats that were rescued in the fire aftermath only 2 had chips. In spite of that we were able to track down the owners of nearly every rescued cat that came to us except one.
By the time we closed the shelter on Friday, November 30th the one cat that we weren’t able to identify the owner for was transported to the Del Oro Shelter. There is also a hospitalized, unidentified litter of kittens who will be moved to the Del Oro shelter when discharged from medical care. Everyone else is safely back with their owners or being cared for in a foster home.
There is still work to do be. We will work to reunite the fostered cats with their families when they are able. The cats who were surrendered to FieldHaven due to owner hardship will be presented for adoption in the coming weeks. There are people calling us every day who are asking for help. We will do what we can within our resources to assist in a variety of ways.
We have some very skilled trappers in our circle who can help reunite more cats with their people if given the opportunity. We have made requests to let us help but they have gone unanswered.
This is a disaster of unprecedented magnitude that will not be over tomorrow, next week or next month. Likely not even next year. We vow that within the scope of our resources we will continue to help. We pray that those that in power see the wisdom of allowing us and others to help.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us, volunteered with us, prayed for the cats and their people, cheered us on. We are honored to be able to help.
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