California Wildfires Bring Out the Best in People and Pets

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The world is a happy place when the four elements - earth, wind, fire and water - are in balance. This past year, the elements have been anything but.

The gulf states and Puerto Rico are still reeling in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s and Irma’s whipping winds and surging water. In some areas, salvaging and rebuilding efforts will likely go on for many years.

Yet we learned that even the most relentless storms couldn’t tear out the foundation of the pet’s place in our family structure. The actions of first responders, everyday people and rescue organizations ensured the preservation and reuniting of furry family members with their human parents.

Now, we are witnessing the same level of heroism on behalf of our animal companions as fires strip the Southern California landscape. As of this writing, upward of 200,000 acres have been charred. Hundreds of homes and countless memorabilia have gone up in smoke and come wafting down in flurries of ash upon those of us lucky enough to emerge unscathed.

Large and small, here are some acts of valor from the front lines of the fire:

  • The Humane Society of the United States’ disaster response team has rescued more than 1,000 animals - including donkeys, pigs, geese and an ostrich - from rural properties when their owners could not return in time to rescue them.
  • Braving smoke inhalation, several men dash about in a burning barn to shoo out dozens of horses, some of them initially too petrified to move. Unfortunately, many horses perished on ranches throughout the Southland.
  • The Ventura County Fairgrounds has been transformed into a makeshift animal shelter as displaced residents scurry to find temporary refuge for their furry family members. On December 5th, VCAS welcomed more than 600 small pets.
  • While reporting live from the Creek Fire in Sylmar, Eyewitness News reporter, Veronica Miracle, corralled a distraught dog on a leash that had evidently bolted from his owner. Evacuating Good Samaritans offered to take the dog to safety.
  • Operation Blankets of Love (OBOL), otherwise known as “the Rescue to the Rescues,” has blanketed fire-ravaged areas with donated pet supplies including blankets, pet beds, food, leashes and crates. Within a span of 24 hours, OBOL shuttled goods to shelters in Sylmar, Santa Paula and Camarillo.

But it’s not just humans that have been doing the rescuing. Amid the devastation of the fires in Santa Rosa, California, this fall, one dog permanently separated himself from the pack.

As flames encroached their property, the Hendel family evacuated as many animals as they could. But, Odin, their white-haired Pyrenees, refused to leave the family’s eight bottle-fed goats behind. Days later, the family returned to find a singed Odin and the all the goats very much alive. The tearful reunion included a young deer that Odin also rescued.

One particular scene was, to me, the visual hallmark of how we’re coming to regard our animal brethren.

Silhouetted against a wall of flames in La Conchita, California, one undaunted man pulled off to the side of a road, chased down a wild rabbit that darted perilously close to disaster, scooped him off the ground and carried him to safety.

And the rabbit wasn’t even his “family.”