Southern California animal sanctuaries and shelters respond (brilliantly) to the threat of wildfire
We never fail to be impressed at the way the members of the animal rescue community -- as diverse as they and the animals they care for are -- band together in emergency. The past week was a sterling example of that, as animal lovers from around Southern California worked to protect the animals -- from lions and tigers to dogs and cats -- that were imperiled by wildfires in the region.
Some sanctuaries were evacuated as a result of the wildfires; Acton-based Animal Acres, which houses rescued farm animals, and the Wildlife Waystation, home to many exotics in Little Tujunga Canyon, were among them. Over the past few days, representatives from both sanctuaries have heralded the efforts of the many volunteers who poured in to help evacuate the animals.
Another sanctuary, the Shambala preserve in Acton, opted to keep its resident big cats on the premises rather than move them unless the emergency became so dire as to make that impossible. "We've never had to [evacuate]," Shambala's founder, actress Tippi Hedren, told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "I'm knocking on wood right now. We've been through floods, fires, incredible things Mother Nature has the capability of handing us." Fortunately for Hedren and the animals she cares for, the wood-knocking paid off, and the sanctuary "is no longer threatened by the recent fire," according to a statement posted on Shambala's website.
The Wildlife Waystation's animals weren't quite so lucky, although all are in fine shape physically, according to spokesperson Jerry Brown. "The animals are doing as good as can be expected under the circumstances," Brown said Thursday. But being placed in small cages and transported to strange places, being surrounded by strangers and the smell of smoke, is "very hectic for them, it's very unusual for them, it's very stressful for them," he added.
The Waystation's charges, which range from big cats to bears to chimpanzees, were evacuated to a number of locations, including the L.A. Zoo and Pierce College. (Two chimpanzees escaped as they were being unloaded at the zoo, but both were quickly recaptured.) The cost of all this? A "fortune" in rented transport vehicles, trailers, round-the-clock shifts by paid sanctuary staff and other costs, according to Brown. So while volunteers and supplies aren't currently needed by the Waystation, funds certainly are.
In all, well over half of the Waystation's more than 400 animals have been moved, but fire department officials allowed sanctuary staff to halt -- for the time being -- the animal exodus due to a decrease in the level of fire danger. A smaller number of difficult-to-move animals like big cats and bears -- roughly 20 to 40, Brown estimated -- remained on the property Thursday. Each of those was ready to be evacuated quickly if things took a turn for the worse, but staff were hopeful that a complete evacuation of the sanctuary would be unnecessary. Also remaining on the property were a group of wild ducks and geese that take advantage of a conveniently-located pond there, but sanctuary staff hoped they'd get the hint and move along if the fire were to come too close.
Farm sanctuary Animal Acres reports that all its animal residents were relocated to an emergency evacuation center near Palmdale -- the sanctuary, fortunately, had the foresight to invest in the evacuation center after a previous wildfire hit the Southland. All are safe, but quite likely will have to remain at the emergency center until at least Sept. 15, according to a statement posted on the sanctuary's website.
Unfortunately, the emergency center wasn't built for an extended stay, and upgrades will have to be made in the form of additional shade shelters and automatic waterers for the animals. And, you guessed it, all this costs money -- so Animal Acres, like the Waystation, has sent out a request to its supporters for much-needed donations.
While Shambala, the Waystation and Animal Acres were fretting over the welfare of larger animals, another organization was quietly doing its part to ensure that the pets of evacuees were safe and well-cared-for.
The Pasadena Humane Society jumped headfirst into the effort, suspending its normal shelter operations to become a 24-hour emergency center for needy pets affected by the fires. The humane society operated two evacuation centers where evacuees could drop off their pets and pick them up again. At the wildfires' peak, the shelter was home to more than 370 animals affected by the fire -- dogs, cats and assorted wildlife -- in addition to the homeless pets it was already housing. As of Thursday, only 11 dogs and 25 cats had yet to be reclaimed by their owners, and a few wild animals remained.
The humane society's success in caring for so many animals was made possible by many willing volunteers; donors who brought blankets, towels and other supplies and provided funds; and businesses like Petco and PetSmart, which offered additional supplies, according to its vice president of community resources, Ricky Whitman.
"We're in pretty good shape and that's because of the public," Whitman said. As of now, staff remain on alert and ready to accept additional pets should the need arise. At present, the shelter is well-stocked with supplies, but is in need of financial support from the public.To make a secure donation to any of these charities, follow the applicable link below:
Animal Acres Farm Sanctuary
Pasadena Humane Society
Shambala Preserve / The Roar Foundation
For full coverage of the wildfires, check out The Times' local news blog, L.A. Now.
-- Lindsay Barnett
Top photo: Neil Egland, head animal trainer at the Wildlife Waystation, uses a fire hose to cool off American black bears Kachina (left) and Cinnamon. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
Middle photo: A tiger snarls as workers and volunteers evacuate animals from the Wildlife Waystation. Credit: David McNew / Getty Images
Bottom photo: Wildlife Waystation founder Martine Colette uses a radio to coordinate an evacuation of animals. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images