Dr. Jeff Smith recently returned from providing disaster relief to over 700 small and large animals in Butte County for 5 days. The communities of Paradise, Concow, and Magalia (about 50,000 people) were evacuated and many of those with pets were forced to place them in shelters set up by the NVARG (North Valley Animal Rescue Group). Butte County Animal Control, NVARG, HSUS, Noah’s Wish and CVMA (California Veterinary Medical Association) provided trained and dedicated personnel to care for the animals.
Dr. Smith was activated as the Veterinary Supervisor for the declared National Disaster. Most days animals were treated from 8 am to 12 am, with a few breaks for “fluids and food” for the volunteers. Animals were treated for burns, smoke inhalation, and heat injury/exhaustion from the fire and the 112 degree temperatures. Animals also were treated for a multitude of non-fire related problems: Hit-by-car injuries, t-post imbedded in the flank of a horse, problems giving birth, parvo, eye infections, vomiting and diarrhea, worms, fleas, hot spots, cuts, infections, founder, lameness, arthritis, and cancer.
The shelters were set up in schools or churches where the Red Cross had set up evacuation shelters for people, so that folks could be near their pets. The conditions were less than ideal, but the animals were very well taken care of. Problems with lack of electricity, over-feeding, and crowded housing were managed quickly and with good results. There were no fatalities, and many lives were saved or improved through the process.
Interestingly, most local veterinary clinics were open but were far too busy taking care of their own clients (and some cases referred in from the disaster shelter), to provide help at the public shelters. It was also a surprise that the evacuation sites were not at Animal Control or the local Humane Societies, but this did make sense when one looked at the number of animals evacuated and the need to have them near their owners.
Lake County is in the process of establishing its own disaster plan for animals. However, it is clear that PRE-TRAINED volunteers are critical to a successful operation. Lake County needs its own group like the NVARG to provide trained personnel in the event of a disaster. The single most important factor in the success in Butte County was trained volunteers that knew what their job was and who they reported to in the Incident Command System. As we learned in Hurricane Katrina, no matter how many volunteers you have, they cannot do their jobs if they are not coordinated!
The fire season is just starting, and every Lake County resident needs to be prepared to evacuate themselves and their animals. You need a travel crate, leash, water, food, medicines, ID tag, microchip, current vaccines, and A PLACE TO GO! Do not count on public assistance. Do not forget your large animals. For them you need a truck and trailer, hay, water, medicines, vaccines, and A PLACE TO GO! Take care of these things NOW!!!