Local animal shelters get help after Camp Fire

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The Paradise Animal Shelter still primarily holds Camp Fire pets a year later. Photo credit: Hana Beaty

During the Camp Fire, many were forced to leave so quickly that they did not have the time to grab their pets. Hundreds of pets were left behind and evacuees were left to worry about the fate of their animals.

Animal shelters in Butte County stepped in to help lost Camp Fire pets and reunite them with their rightful owners.

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The Paradise Animal Shelter was quick to help animals, despite the struggles they were facing with the fire.

“We were actually housing quite a few animals before we had — (well) we had water, but we didn’t have any power or anything yet,” Jen Robbins, an officer and supervisor at the Paradise Animal Shelter, said. “We were actually housing a lot of animals before people realized it.”

Their lack of power caused problems the shelter had to navigate.

“Normally, there’s a shelter software program so when an animal comes in, you take a photograph, you enter all the pertinent information, it gets an ID number— all of that we were having to do longhand because we didn’t have power or internet,” Robbins said.

Other local shelters also jumped into action to help the animals after the fire. Tracy Mohr, the animal services manager for the city of Chico, remembers the morning of the Camp Fire at the Chico Animal Shelter.

“Even before we started our day we got a call from Paradise Animal Control saying that they were evacuating their shelter and so they wanted to see if they could bring their animals to us,” Mohr said. “The beginning of the day started just setting up spaces for the cats and making room for the dogs and those kind of things.”

More animals arrived after the fire than any of the shelters could hold. Temporary shelters popped up in different locations throughout the county to compensate.

When those shelters came down, a lot of those animals went to shelters in Paradise, Chico and Oroville.

“We took animals in even as late as January, we took animals from the temporary shelters,” Mohr said. “We were not really in any super big hurry to adopt out the animals because we knew there would probably be people still looking.”

Protocol had to change at the different shelters due to the unusual conditions of the fire.

According to Robbins, most shelters hold their animals for a few days before opening them up to the public for adoption. With the fire, animals were held for reunification for about three months before the shelter allowed for them to be adopted.

Other shelters followed suit and helped people with the search for their animals.

“Every animal that had an address (where) they were found, we would send a letter to that address saying we might have their pet at the shelter and giving them a description,” Mohr said. “We actually surprisingly had a huge number of people come in with a letter and say ‘Hey, I think you have my cat’.”

One year after the Camp Fire, these animal shelters are still helping people and animals affected by the fire.

The Paradise shelter is providing resources for their community with pet food and housing.

“We received a lot of donated dog houses… so we reached out to the community because we know that a lot of people are living in trailers or they lost their yard and fencing,” Robbins said. “We wanted to try and help the residents of Paradise to make some accommodations.”

Even one year later, the Chico shelter gets calls from people looking for pets that went missing in the fire.

“I think the assumption for a lot of people was ‘There’s no way my animal survived’ and so they didn’t even think to look,” Mohr said. “Then as stories started to get out that people’s pets had survived and they were being reunited then other people started to think ‘Oh maybe my pet actually did survive and maybe I should start looking for them’.”

Mohr also believes that trauma affected how and when people looked for their pets.

“A lot of people have said ‘If it was me I would be looking for my pet all over the place’ or ‘How could people have left their pets behind?’” Mohr said. “But it’s like if you’ve never been through that kind of a trauma, you really can’t say what’s normal to react. You think you would do one thing, but unless you’ve been through such a tragedy, you can’t really say that’s how you should react.”

The Paradise Animal Shelter still has primarily camp fire pets, with only three dogs that came to them after the fire. The Chico Animal Shelter adopted out their last Camp Fire dog and cat only a few weeks ago.

Jessie Imhoff can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JessieReports.