As the CZU Lightning Complex fires steadily claim over 80,000 acres of land, ripping their way through Big Basin Redwoods State Park and threatening nearby cities as they enter their third week of devastation, families under threat of evacuation are facing yet another challenge: when the time comes to leave their home, where will their pets go?
Although some evacuated families are able to safely stay with friends or family nearby, many are seeking refuge in hotels and other housing that don’t allow pets. Recognizing the need to provide immediate temporary accommodation for evacuated pets, the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter opened their doors to families in affected areas at the start of the fires over two weeks ago, offering to house any evacuee pets that cannot be taken elsewhere.
The shelter is currently responsible for 1,722 animals, ranging from cats and dogs to snakes and donkeys. Erika Anderson, the shelter’s Programming and Development Manager, likens the current state of the shelter to a zoo. Although the shelter’s maximum capacity is fluid and changes based on the number of foster animals and evacuees currently at the shelter, Anderson notes that the shelter is “finding new ways” to maximize their space.
“We have our garage set up for all of our non-feathered friends that like a hotter environment — snakes, tortoises, lizards — so we’re keeping the garage nice and warm with a bunch of heat lamps and anything they need out there,” Anderson described. “We don’t normally house animals in the garage… [and] we don’t normally house animals in the additional house on the property. [For now,] we still are available to set up dog crates in order to house chickens,” she explained with a laugh.
Anderson attributed much of the shelter’s success in housing so many animals to volunteers in the community who have stepped up to help, saying that the shelter’s staff is “really fortunate” to have the additional support.
“We absolutely could not do it without all the volunteers working alongside us, making sure that we have the support that we need to care for all these critters,” she said.
A number of local veterinarians displaced by the fires have also begun volunteering their skills to aid the organization. In addition to helping animals at the shelter, volunteer veterinarians visit evacuee sites to check up with pet owners and see how they can help.
“It’s been a very proud moment for me to see the volunteers come together and know that we have to make this work and find a space for all these animals, in addition to also helping people,” Anderson remarked, praising members of the community for donating their time.
It’s organizations like the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter that have helped junior Sam Hickok and her family while they are evacuated from their home in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
From her hotel, Hickok described what life is like under evacuation, and the process of finding housing for her German Shepherd and three cats.
“Some hotels won’t let him come in because he’s a big dog… some people are really intimidated by him,” she noted. Luckily, their hotel is pet-friendly, and Hickok is able to keep her dog with her rather than putting him in a shelter.
However, the situation is a bit different for her cats, as Hickok explained that there are “not a lot of options” when it comes to finding temporary housing for them. “Normally people who can take in cats already have cats, but to add in three more is just too many for one house,” she said. Instead, Hickok explained that a shelter next to their local veterinarian was able to take the cats in.
“We’re not allowed to see them at all… we have no idea what their cages look like, so I have no idea if they’re in a tiny crate for a solid week-and-a-half or if they have a little room to themselves,” Hickok commented.
Despite the general uncertainty, Hickok expressed her hopes of returning home soon and resuming life as normal as firefighters slowly make progress in containing the CZU Lightning Complex fires.
If you are looking for a way to get involved with the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter and help with supplies and animal care during the wildfires, the shelter asks that direct donations be made to their website at scanimalshelter.org.
Photos courtesy Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter