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STEPPING OUT: Local musicians band together to help burned and displaced animals

When fire spread across the hills of Sonoma County and through the streets of Santa Rosa, it wasn’t just the two-footed residents who ended up displaced and homeless. As the human tragedy became more and more clear in the first days of the event, Doris Duncan, of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, became aware that many wild animals were suffering as well.

“We weren’t taking in any wild animals for the first week and half,” she says of her staff and volunteers at the large Mecham Rd. facility. At first, they were primarily taking in domestic animals displaced by the fires: horses, goats, rabbits, tortoises. “Then last Friday we got our first bobcat in,” she says.

Found in Napa and transferred to Petaluma, the juvenile bobcat was starving and badly burned, its pads and claws mostly missing.

“It had been wandering around for more than a week with no food and water,” Duncan says. “It was in horrendous pain. We covered its eyes so the sight of us wouldn’t frighten it even further, but before we could do much help it, the bobcat ended up dying on the exam table. The pain was more than it could handle. The next day, we got our first fox.”

Duncan says that such orphaned and injured animals have been coming in ever since, some seriously burned, many others simply weakened from starvation and thirst, or severely stressed. And stress, Duncan points out, is the number one killer of animals in the wild.

“This is usually a very slow time for us,” she explains. “We might have 20 animals, mostly possums or squirrels or raccoons or deer. We have about 60 right now, more or less. The loss of habitat has been devastating. As the weeks go on, I think we will be seeing more and more weakened and starving animals.”

Founded in 1981, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue has been helping sick, injured, and displaced and orphaned animals around Sonoma County for 36 years. The nonprofit depends on the support of donors and volunteers under the best of circumstances. With the latest inundation of fire-related creatures, the organization’s needs – from cash to new volunteers - are suddenly acute.

A major fundraiser this weekend should help ease the crisis a bit.

Dubbed “Wild Thang,” the upbeat musical event, to take place at the Mystic Theatre, crams a whole music festival worth of performers into a single evening. Bands include The Easy Leaves, Highway Poets, Misner and Smith and more (keep reading). McNear’s will provide some tasty treats, and a Call of the Wild competition will encourage attendees to demonstrate their best animal and bird calls. A number of opportunities to acquire great donated gifts will also be on hand through a large silent auction and surprise-packed raffle.

All proceeds go to help the work of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue.

“I’ve been volunteering for them for a couple of years,” explains event co-producer Sheila Groves-Tracy. “I’ve been serving as a rescue volunteer. When someone calls and says, ‘There’s an injured possum on my property! Can you come and help it?’ I go out and gather it up, and bring it in, and the animal doctors do what they can to rehabilitate it, and hopefully release it back into the wild.”

Adds Groves-Tracy, “I love this organization. They are total heroes.”

As it so happens, the benefit was planned long before the fires turned the event from a simple fundraiser into something more serious.

“I really wanted to do something for the organization, to raise some money and also to call attention to what they do,” Groves-Tracy explains, of the original plan for the Wild Thang benefit, conceived months before the firestorm. “Then the fires happened, and we realized, after seeing all of these animals being brought in with horrifying injuries, that the animals need this more than ever. The animals affected aren’t just horses and llamas and goats. There are mountain lions and foxes and raccoons and deer who’ve been burned and displaced too.”

Working with co-producer Frank Hayhurst of Zone Music in Cotati, Groves-Tracy has assembled a first rate line-up of acts that also includes The Sam Chase, Foxes in the Henhouse, John Courage, the Lake Charlatans, Josh Windmiller, and Soul Fuse, with guests Volker Strifler, Ashley Allred, Levi Lloyd and others.

“It was going to be a great line-up to begin with,” Groves-Tracy says, “but after the fire, everybody really stepped up and said, ‘yes, yes, yes.’”

One additional purpose for the event, Groves-Tracy hopes, is to let people know that Wildlife Rescue is in need of more than just cash donations. They need humans willing to be trained in the care of these animals, now and in the uncertain future.

“We’ve been struggling through this with relatively few volunteers, because we are getting so many animals,” allows Duncan. “There has been a decline in volunteers over the last several years. Since the fire, we’ve been getting some nice spontaneous volunteerism, but we need more.”

There is a training program beginning this January, Duncan points out, and her hope is that through the Wild Tang benefit, and the word-of-mouth it generates, there will be a large number of people signing up to take the training.

“The animals are suffering,” Duncan says. “This crisis is going to be long term, not just for the people who lost their houses and businesses, but the animals, too. We’re not sure what’s going to happen, but we have a strong feeling that for the animals, things could get worse before they get better.”

(Email David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)

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