The Camp Fire is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history and the deadliest in the United States in 100 years. The town of Paradise, California was essentially destroyed and other nearby communities heavily damaged. Within the first few weeks after the fire, over 2,000 dogs and cats were rescued but there are hundreds of cats still in the fire zone needing rescue.
FieldHaven operated an emergency evacuation and rescue center for 23 days beginning the day of the fire. During that time, about 100 cats were cared for as well as other “critters” including birds, rabbits, chickens and reptiles.
Camp Fire Recovery Efforts
- Fostering for fire victims who can’t have their cats with them until their living situation stabilizes
- Providing rehoming services for victims who unfortunately have to surrender their cats due to hardship
- Providing veterinary care for any Camp Fire cats in our foster and adoption programs
- Searching and trapping cats still in the fire zone. Owners are requesting the help of our expert trapping teams to locate and rescue their beloved kitties who lives are still at risk.
10:30 PM – Received phone call from Briana Shuette, the Emergency Operations Planner from Yuba County Office of Emergency Services. Yuba and Sutter County had just received a call from Butte OES for mutual aide in sheltering Camp Fire evacuees. FieldHaven contemplates the idea of establishing a sheltering facility for cats. Animals were at the fairgrounds already. Yuba Sutter Domestic Animal Disaster Assistance (YSDADA) could not be onsite until the following morning.
12:15 AM – Received another call from Briana that Sacramento County could provide mutual aide with their animal disaster response supply trailer. FieldHaven Feline Center president and executive director Joy Smith immediately deployed to the Yuba Sutter Fairgrounds on Franklin Avenue in Yuba City with a FieldHaven volunteer veterinary assistant, Heidi Smyth.
4:00 AM – Sacramento County Animals Services arrived and Heidi and I began setting up sheltering. More animals arrived throughout the day and YSDADA set up sheltering for dogs.
Many more animals and people arrived. A call was received from Butte County that we could expect at least 600 more animals. With only space for 65 cats, we started looking into other accommodations. All available buildings at the fairgrounds were already being used. Veterinary professionals, including RVTs and DVMs came to provide medical care for the sheltered animals.
The “influx” of animals did not arrive on Saturday, but evacuation areas were being expanded and more animals did arrive. The cats (and various other small animals, birds, and reptiles) were moved to Whiteaker Hall at the Sutter County Sheriff’s Posse at 44 2nd Street in Yuba City. Using sheltering guidelines for spacing, environment and housing this gave us space for up to 120 cats. Our population on Sunday was about 40 cats (plus the other pets). A FieldHaven volunteer and staff member, both with veterinary training, volunteered at the Del Oro in Oroville shelter for two days. They were very overcrowded and so many animals were still coming in.
We started reaching out to North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG) to offer relief of the very overcrowded shelter in Oroville, though FieldHaven did not receive any response. The first rescued cats started appearing at FieldHaven’s shelter. They were found by authorized parties who were in the burned areas. The rescuers were given verbal authorization by several parties at NVADG and Butte Animal Control to bring the rescued animals to “any shelter that could provide sheltering and medical services.” This was especially important because FieldHaven’s shelter was open and staffed 24/7 because many of the rescuers were not able to get animals to it until late at night.
Becky Robinson, President and CEO of Alley Cat Allies (ACA), a national advocacy group for cats arrived at FieldHaven’s emergent shelter to offer assistance with shelter setup, funding, and positioning to provide maximum support services to Butte Animal Control and North Valley Animal Disaster Group. Numerous phone calls were made to Yuba, Sutter, and Butte County officials, NVADG management, and other parties offering cat sheltering relief for the overcrowded Del Oro shelter. No one would take responsibility for making a decision.
FieldHaven volunteer, Heidi Smyth, who had worked at the Del Oro shelter over the weekend, along with a FieldHaven staff member, spoke to several officials voicing her concerns about the capacity of the shelter. She recommended NVADG respond to the opportunity to transfer some cats to FieldHaven’s shelter which was only at about 40% capacity. Becky Robinson, Joy Smith, and several others went to the Del Oro shelter in the afternoon. Becky’s offer of financial assistance was rebuffed by NVADG management. FieldHaven did tour the shelter and found the conditions for cats to be very overcrowded. Once again, FieldHaven offered assistance with sheltering with no response.
11/12 to 11/15
Continued attempts were made to offer sheltering relief for the even more crowded NVADG-managed shelters. All offers went unresponded to. Rescuers in the field continued to bring rescued cats to our shelter. The first reunion of a rescued cat was made. FieldHaven met the owner in Chico to reunite “Marquis” with her. Additional funding and supplies were received from ACA to care for the cats coming into the shelter. A supply of traps were received in anticipation of going out to rescue once the fire areas were declared safe for rescuers to go in.
FieldHaven veterinarian, Berta Peterson, DVM took on the role of Emergent Shelter Veterinarian, oversighting the care of all animals in the shelter. We had so many people coming to our shelter looking for their lost cats that we established a procedure for counseling them. A separate, quiet area was set up where they could have the undivided attention of a volunteer or staff member who recorded information on their lost pets. We provided people with resources on where else to look for their pets and where to report the information.
Communication was received that rescuers could go into the fire area through an organization, Cowboy 911, with oversight by NVADG. In spite of the fact that several of us were credentialed NVADG volunteers we were asked to go through an orientation and swearing in. After this we were asked to report back the next morning.
During the early morning wait for instructions and call sheets, FieldHaven went to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and asked to speak with Sara Avakian. Joy Smith spoke with Sara and, once again, offered FieldHaven’s assistance with sheltering to relieve the burden on the Del Oro and Chico shelters. She was non-committal. Late morning, FieldHaven was officially deployed into Paradise by NVADG and Cowboy 911.
FieldHaven sent three teams out with a total of seven people with tickets for requests to search for animals. FieldHaven was successful in making numerous rescues and leaving food at various places where animals were not seen, but may be or were seen and we could not capture. At the end of the day, FieldHaven was informed that there would be no Cowboy 911 teams going in the field on the next day, Sunday.
11/19 to 11/21
Exotics veterinarian Mira Sanchez, DVM provided exam and care instructions for all the non-cat occupants of the shelter. For three days, FieldHaven was in the field doing rescues, searches, and food placement. In speaking with several animal control officers in the field and from experience, FieldHaven could see the move needed to shift from rescue to set up feeding stations and put together trapping plans.
FieldHaven was spotting numerous cats that were described on tickets as well as others, but they were traumatized and frightened. As a result, they were retreating from human contact. This is normal behavior with cats that are in a unfamiliar environment and/or have gone through a traumatic event. FieldHaven was starting to recognize patterns for some of the cats and were making plans to begin trapping when on Wednesday, FieldHaven was informed by NVADG that all Cowboy 911 rescuers were “no longer needed.”
FieldHaven had hoped that after the Thanksgiving holiday, teams would be allowed to go back in to begin trapping. FieldHaven started to implement an exit plan for the evacuation shelter as the mutual aide phase of sheltering for Yuba and Sutter Counties was drawing to a close. The hope was that to implement a recovery shelter phase to provide assistance with the still over-burdened Del Oro and Chico Airport shelters.
Again, all offers of assistance received no response. There was no further encouragement that our organization, along with many others, would be allowed to provide assistance in the field. Fortunately, one organization Camp Fire Pet Rescue and Reunification was allowed in to continue rescuing and trapping cats, although the need was so much greater.
A closure date for the Yuba/Sutter OES in Whiteaker Hall shelter was set for Friday, November 30 at 12:00 PM. A phone call was received from Norm Rosene, who identified himself as the PIO for NVADG. Joy Smith assumed that he was calling to get information on the cats we may be transferring to the Del Oro shelter upon closure and welcomed his call, but was truly perplexed when he launched into a rant that FieldHaven was “stealing cats and taking them across county lines” and threatened Joy with arrest.
Joy Smith informed Norm that FieldHaven was working under the direction of Yuba County and Sutter County OES and was residing at a Sutter County Sheriff’s Department building. He would need to contact any of those under which FieldHaven was working under the direction of and direct his concerns to that party.
11/25 to 11/30
Throughout the week, FieldHaven worked with each owner of the evacuees to send their pets home with them or find a foster within our network. FieldHaven processed intakes for cats that were surrendered to FieldHaven. NVADG made repeated attempts on social media to discredit the work FieldHaven was doing and our authority to rescue animals. Several cats were reunited with owners.
The remaining cats (1 adult, 3 kittens) were transferred to the Del Oro shelter. FieldHaven held these cats until we closed the shelter to minimize their exposure to the upper respiratory infection (URI) outbreak that had been reported at the Del Oro shelter. The shelter was officially closed on Friday, November 30 at 12:00 PM.
Alley Cat Allies® Recovery Center
Reuniting Fire Cats with Families
The Alley Cat Allies® Recovery Center was where folks looking for their displaced cats went in order to reunite with their feline friends. It served as a holding area while matchers continued to try to reunite families. Some cats went into foster homes if they were too stressed at the center. Upon arriving at the center, cats received medical care and an exam (if deemed necessary), vaccinations, flea treatment, de-worming, and a microchip. The center closed in early 2019. It was located at 620 Ninth Street, Marysville, California.
The Transfer Station
Assessing the Situation
Trappers brought cats in from the fire zone to the Transfer Station. From there, they would be assessed and added to our website and Facebook page. In one to three days, our transfer team would take them to the Alley Cat Allies® Recovery Center for medical intake and continued reunion efforts. Ferals were altered, ear-tipped, and microchipped, then released back to their feeding station area. It served as a place for immediate intake and sheltering upon being rescued. The Transfer Station closed in early 2019 and was located at 5399 Clark Road, Paradise, California.
FieldHaven Feline Center Shelter
Continuing the Search
Cats who needed medical care beyond what we were able to offer at the Alley Cat Allies® Recovery Center were transferred to our main shelter in Lincoln, California. It was also where we relocated cats who had been at the Alley Cat Allies® Recovery Center for at least 30 days. At the shelter, we continued searching for these kitties’ families, but realized they might never be reunited. FieldHaven Feline Center is open Monday through Saturday and is located at 2754 Ironwood Lane, Lincoln, California.
Finding New Homes
Cats who were left unclaimed eventually needed to move and find new families. We have great adoption parters, such as the Nevada Humane Society, the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, and the San Francisco SPCA, who helped us find new homes for our unclaimed Camp Fire kitties.