Updated on October 12, 2017
Firestorms in California
September and October are blissful months for me now that I live in the mountains of western North Carolina. I am treated to a feast of color and the quality of the light and crispness of the air create a deep sense of relaxation and a feeling of, “Ahhhhhh….”
I can’t help but compare this to the way I felt during Northern California Septembers and Octobers. There, the autumnal changes in the light and air signaled a need to be on guard for fear of firestorms, the likes of which are currently raging. It was never a matter of if there would be fires, but rather where they would occur. The need for hypervigilance resolved only when the rains arrived sometime in late October or early November.
I’ve been glued to the news watching the progress of the current Northern California infernos. My heart is filled with sadness and my mind with disbelief. Every person I’ve communicated with who lives in my old stomping grounds has been significantly impacted by the fires, be it by the intense smoke, sleep deprivation from maintaining a rooftop vigil with hose in hand, or the loss of homes, animals, places of business, community landmarks, houses of worship, and complete neighborhoods.
Veterinary hospitals have burned to the ground. The hospital where I worked is bursting at the seams with burn victims and patients transferred from evacuated hospitals, and staff members tell me that, depending on the changing winds, evacuation may be imminent.
Facebook is filled with images of animals displaced by the fires. Some of the photos are of cats and dogs with singed whiskers and hair coats who somehow managed to survive the inferno. Other images are of healthy appearing dogs and cats, posted by people who are hoping beyond hope to be reunited with a beloved pet who was unintentionally left behind.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported an amazing and uplifting survival story about Safari West, an exotic animal habitat located in the hills surrounding Santa Rosa. As the article stated:
Peter Lang had a heart-wrenching choice — save his house in the fire-ravaged hills above Santa Rosa or protect the more than 1,000 animals trapped at his wildlife preserve, Safari West. The 77-year-old owner of the 400-acre facility on Porter Creek Road didn’t give it much thought.
As the flames approached, Lang ushered his wife, employees and 30 overnight guests off the hill, grabbed a garden hose and began dousing hot spots threatening his collection of primarily African species, including cheetahs, giraffes and rhinoceroses.
When dawn broke, they were all alive but Lang’s home was destroyed.
“I did not lose a single animal,” he said Tuesday as he walked the grounds, dense smoke still shrouding pens and other outbuildings. “It is amazing.”
As hot embers landed in the animals’ enclosures, Lang ran between them, putting out small fires and coaxing hyenas and other animals from one enclosure to another in a hopscotch manner to protect them. Small patches of ground burned but no animals were hurt, he said.
“I have a thousand souls I’m responsible for,” he said as he walked the grounds, dense smoke still shrouding pens and other outbuildings. “It wasn’t even a decision. This is what I had to do.”
I invite you to consider making a donation to an organization involved in rescuing/fostering animals who have been displaced by the fires. Here are some to consider. No doubt, there are plenty of other organizations pitching in who would welcome your donation.
The firestorms are ravaging places where I lived, worked, and played for more than three decades. Having left the bay area just shy of six years ago, no doubt, “survivor’s guilt” plays a role in all that I am feeling. Thank you for letting me indulge in wearing my heart on my sleeve.
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.