hree weeks after the Camp Fire, hundreds of people made homeless are only now able to look for their beloved pets. They come to the Chico Municipal Airport, where the North Valley Animal Disaster Group has been collecting, feeding, medicating and cuddling dogs, cats, reptiles, parakeets, rabbits, ducks -- and even a chinchilla.
Some of the animals here were dropped off by owners who couldn’t take them to shelters. Others were rescued by first responders or strangers and brought here. The rescue group's spokesman, Norm Rosene, says that although some of the animals were scared at first, “You read the animal and say ‘What do I need to do to calm this animal down?’ A lot of times, just speaking in a soft voice will help any animal.”
The chaos of the fire separated many animals from their people --the disaster group was caring for about 500 cats and 300 dogs at the height of the disaster. Many of them were injured.
“They have burned paws, so the paws will be wrapped and treated and cleaned," Rosene says. "And then sometimes we’ll see burned whiskers or extremities that get burned. If they made it out, and they’re in reasonable shape, our vets can take very good care of them and get them back to health.”
But, Rosene adds, some animals were so badly injured they've had to be euthanized.
We walk into the building to see the shelter's dogs. They’re lined up in rows of cages, sitting on fuzzy blankets. Bags of kibble are stacked along the wall.
“We have big dogs and small dogs, chubby dogs and skinny dogs. I’ve seen mastiffs that were 150 pounds; I’ve seen teacups that were 4 to 5 pounds,” Rosene says. “The key is to get them into a standard routine and give them lots of attention with the volunteers, so that they know that they’re cared for.”
They’re going to get a lot of pats on the head and scratches behind the ears, he says.
eople stream in throughout the day, looking for their pets.
Shirley McHugh comes in, distraught, looking for her 11-year-old lab mix, Dini. Volunteers lead her to look at two labs. McHugh hurries down to some cages, calling out: “Dini? Dini?!”
A volunteer shows her the two labs, and McHugh nearly cries. “No! That’s not Dini. No,” she says, shaking her head.
But rescue volunteers think Dini may have been moved to a nearby shelter. And sure enough, McHugh and Dini are reunited later in the day.
We tour rooms of cats and birds -- yes, they are kept in separate rooms. A blue-and-gold macaw named Bug does a little dance when coaxed. He talks, and the volunteers say his language isn’t always “appropriate.”
We go into the cat room. Rosene says the cats come in very traumatized. He points to one. “This is a beautiful gray tabby with a white chest and stripes along his cheeks," he says. "That is a pretty cat. Just wants loving.”
Rosene says some of the rescued animals may never be picked up because their owners could be among the scores of Butte County residents who didn’t survive the fire.