Mare Reasons peered lovingly into one of the crates inside an industrial building at the Chico Municipal Airport, calling out in a sing-song voice, “How are you doing, Jojo?”
Her black and white cat was curled up in a back corner of the space, which had plenty of bedding, a litter box and food and water. Jojo immediately perked up when she heard her owner’s voice, letting out a soft meow.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jojo,” Reasons cooed, reaching out to her feline companion.
Reasons was visiting her cat at North Valley Animal Disaster Group’s (NVADG) emergency shelter, set up at the airport in the wake of the Camp Fire to provide a safe place for displaced animals.
Reasons is staying at the Neighborhood Church evacuation shelter with her border collie, Gridley. She knows Jojo is “in good hands,” but because she lost everything in the fire, she just wants her furry companions near her. Her other feline, B.C. (aka Big Cat), was still missing as of Tuesday (Nov. 13), but Reasons was determined to keep checking in, hoping for good news.
Back at her truck in the parking lot of the shelter, she let Gridley stretch his legs. When Reasons squatted down to embrace him, he bathed her in kisses, and her tired expression blossomed into one of joy.
Like so many displaced Ridge residents, Reasons grabbed the pets she could find and fled for her life when the Camp Fire broke out on Nov. 8, leveling the town of Paradise and tearing through surrounding communities in a matter of hours. As she sped down the Skyway, six strangers and three dogs packed into the bed of her truck to ride to safety.
“Gratefulness and gratitude are the things, when you’re going through this, that come to mind,” said Reasons, also a volunteer with Bidwell Wildlife Rehabilitation. “I love animals so deeply, because they are so innocent, and they can be subject to cruelty.”
The scene at the airport emergency animal shelter was chaotic—early this week, people waited in lines at multiple doors. Some were seeking their beloved pets, lost or left behind during the evacuation, while others came to surrender stray animals found among the wreckage on the Ridge.
A stream of people dropped off supplies; among the items were a truck bed full of dog and cat food, blankets, pet beds, bowls and crates.
Stephanie Fountain, an NVADG volunteer, said pets are constantly coming in and out. Volunteers are there around the clock, some staying at night to watch out for any emergencies. During the day, they help people dropping off strays and searching for their pets, feed the animals, change bedding and walk the dogs periodically.
Not all displaced animals end up staying at NVADG’s shelter at the airport. A wide network of veterinary and shelter providers are working hard to assist animals in crisis.
Healthy, unidentified cats have been transferred to VCA Asher Animal Hospital in Redding, while stable, unidentified dogs have been taken to VCA Loomis Animal Hospital in Placer County. There are emergency shelters at the Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley, Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds in Yuba City and three in Oroville, including one at the Old County Hospital.
Most of the animals at the airport shelter are healthy and belong to evacuees who just don’t have a place to keep them right now, veterinarian Jay Kerr told the CN&R. He’s among a team of a half-dozen vets and 10 technicians with the California Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps providing care at NVADG’s three Butte County shelters.
The majority of the injuries are fire-related: burned paws and coats, singed ears and whiskers, Kerr said. The really bad burn cases have been sent to Chico’s Valley Oak Veterinary Center or even UC Davis.
“A lot of what we’re seeing are healthy pets that are stressed,” Kerr said—pets experiencing upset stomachs, diarrhea or vomiting. Many are not used to being in a cage, being indoors or staying in an unfamiliar room with hundreds of other animals. Plus, dietary changes often can lead to stomach issues.
Sandy Doolittle, NVADG’s director, lost her Paradise home in the fire and has been keeping herself busy by doing what she does best: helping animals in a time of crisis, coordinating care and securing donations.
She told the CN&R she understands that people are “so raw right now” because they have experienced incredible loss and just want to be reunited with their pets. She was so thankful she was able to pile her two dogs and two cats, as well as three doves and two baby possums from Bidwell Wildlife Rehabilitation (of which she is a board member), into her two-seat car before evacuating.
NVADG is desperately trying to keep people’s animals safe and get them reunited with their owners, she continued, but the process will take some time.
“Every day, we’re getting more animals out,” Doolittle said. “Don’t give up hope.”
As of Wednesday (Nov. 14), NVADG was caring for 1,862 animals, including cats, dogs, birds, reptiles, horses, chickens, guinea pigs, goats, sheep, pigs, ducks, rabbits, cows and geese, as well as a turkey and an alpaca.
It may be chaotic, Fountain added, but the shelters have allowed a lot of families to have reunions with their pets, “and it’s all happy tears, across the board.”
Such was the case with Roni Wieners. She was reunited with four of her cats on Tuesday.
After evacuating with her husband, their dog and one of their cats, she contacted NVADG in the hopes that their other felines could be returned to their family safely.
She received a text with a photo of four cats from a volunteer with Camp Fire Pet Rescue and Reunification, and, sure enough, there were George, Sweets, White Man and Trooper, safe and sound at the airport shelter.
“They’re my heroes right now,” she said, referring to the hundreds of volunteers assisting fire evacuees. “I was just amazed.”