Opening the Camp Fire Recovery Center

Opening the Camp Fire Recovery Center

By Joy Smith

There are days in the history of our lives that become conversation starters throughout our entire life.

Where were you and what were you doing….:

“when the first man walked on the moon?”

“when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened?”

“on 911?”

“when the Camp Fire started?”

I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing during each of those events. Especially the Camp Fire.

November 8, 2018 was going to be a busy day for me, starting with an 8 am meeting of the Downtown Lincoln Association at City Hall, following by another meeting then an afternoon presentation about FieldHaven to the Sun City Lincoln Hills community.  There was something scheduled for the evening but I now can’t remember what that was.

The first notification of the Camp Fire came in a text while at the DLA meeting at around 8:30 AM. Volunteers were being called to be on standby for staffing disaster shelters for pets because of a potential widespread fire that had started at 6:30 AM in the Paradise area.

Several more alerts came after that but in preparation for the afternoon presentation I was avoiding my phone and social media.

After the presentation, at about 4:30 pm I turned my phone back on.  It beeped, rang and dinged for about a full minute while texts, voice mails, emails and Facebook messages flooded my phone.  My thought at that moment was “oh, this fire is big”.

I now realize how much an understatement that thought was.  “Big” doesn’t begin to describe it.  Or how my life has changed since that moment.

That evening I started packing my car, eager to head out first thing in the morning to volunteer at one of the shelters for evacuated animals in Oroville or Chico.  I planned on being gone for several days so packed some bedding so I could sleep in the back of my Explorer.

At 10:00 PM I received a call from Yuba County Office of Emergency Services.  Yuba and Sutter Counties were offering mutual aide to Butte and would be opening up the Fairgrounds as a sheltering facility.  Could I please setup and manage the cat shelter?

After grabbing a quick nap while supplies were dispatched I left at 12:30 am not to come home for the next 23 days.

When we wrapped up the Whiteaker Hall evacuation center on November 30th I had a feeling my time with the Camp Fire wasn’t over yet.  With a few cats in tow who had been surrendered to FieldHaven or for whom we were fostering for owners, I returned home about 10 pounds lighter (would we call that the “disaster diet”?), immensely richer in the dozens of new friends I had made and my heart full knowing we had helped so many animals and their people.

But I was restless and unsettled.  There was too much yet to be done.  Hundreds, no probably, thousands of cats still needed rescuing.  Their heartbroken owners searching, hoping, praying that they could have that one thing from their broken, devastated lives;  a reunion with their beloved kitty.  The spirit of the people who had lost every material thing in their life is uplifting.  They brush aside the fact that their life’s possessions are nothing by a foot deep pile of ash covering the footprint of their home.  All they want is to be reunited with their cats.

I couldn’t just go back to my normal, ridiculously hectic life. I tried it for about 10 days. Several of us went to the fire zone and trapped a few cats and reunited them with their owners. We helped a couple of other trappers by housing the cats they trapped and finding their owners. There was DYC whose owner sadly decided rehoming was the best option. Happily, we found DYC a marvelous home quickly.

My family, friends and FieldHaven family probably wish I had been content to do those small, yet impactful things.  But I couldn’t stand not doing something more. I was restless.

I reached out to Becky Robinson from Alley Cat Allies who had visited us at the initial evacuation shelter and provided tremendous resources. “Becky,” I said, “I have this idea of a Recovery Center for providing a longer term solution for cats still in the fire zone.  There are trappers who are searching for cats belonging to fire victims and reuniting them. But in the process of finding the ‘target’ cats they are finding so many cats that obviously belong to other people.  There are no shelters or resources to match those cats up with their owners.   It’s a big hole in the process of getting these cats out of the fire zone and back with their people. I want to establish a Recovery Center to meet those needs. Can Alley Cat Allies help?”

Her immediate answer was “YES!”

Thus begun the next phase of my life changing adventure.  On December 22nd we opened the Alley Cat Allies/FieldHaven Recovery Center in Marysville.

We aren’t sure how long we’ll be there but our doors will be open for as long as we’re needed.

Come along with me on this adventure. It could change your life too.

You can view the presentation I gave at Sun City Lincoln Hill here.  (it’s over an hour long) There is one moment, towards the end when I’m talking about FieldHaven’s role in disaster assistance I mention the Camp Fire and my intention to go volunteer.  Who knew what was going to transpire just a few hours later…

If you would like to support FieldHaven’s efforts for the Camp Fire click here

To join me by  volunteering at the Recovery Center, join our Facebook page

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