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Rescuing animals from fire

Petaluma has become known as a reliable shelter for Sonoma County residents fleeing wildfires. At the same time, local animal rescue groups are becoming well practiced at saving creatures from the blazes that have beset the region in the past four fire seasons.

Mark Scott, executive director of North Bay Animal Services, which operates the Petaluma Animal Shelter, said the organization is well prepared to handle evacuations. They work with other organizations to provide relief and assistance, Scott said.

“We’ve helped in fires when other shelters needed to be evacuated,” he said.

Animal Services officers have stayed near the fire areas, ready to lend a hand with evacuations. They’ve assisted several families with evacuating chickens and other fowl and they’re providing emergency boarding for an evacuated kitty.

It makes things go smoother if you’re prepared before an evacuation happens. Besides your own go-bag it’s important to prepare for evacuating your pets as well, Scott said. Make sure you have enough of their food, medications and water to last for two weeks. Pack bowls for food and water. It’s helpful to have a crate for your cat and both a leash and a crate for your dog.

It helps if horses and other large animals have already been taught to load up into a trailer. This can save valuable time during an evacuation.

Have your pets microchipped and make sure the information on the chip is kept current, Scott said. If you suspect you could be evacuated, keep your cat indoors so it’s easier to get to them. Make a plan, including where you’ll go, before a disaster hits. During fire and even flood season, it’s a good idea to practice your evacuation plan.

Scott said donations to help with their disaster preparedness are always welcomed. They need plastic carriers, wire dog crates and bird cages. Caging for small animals like rabbits and hamsters are useful too. They need leashes, harnesses, large animal leads and halters. They can also use canned and dry pet food and rabbit pellets.

Besides pets, wild animals also flee wildfires and sometimes end up in Petaluma at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. The Mecham Road facility has offered to be an evacuation site if other centers need help.

Danielle McGuire, the Animal Care Director at SCWR, said besides education, their focus is on rehabilitation and release. SCWR has taken in 1,173 animals so far this year, representing 75 different species.

“Everything from squirrels to eagles,” McGuire said. “We have a 55% survival rate within the first 24 hours and a 78% survival rate after the first 24hours.”

She said they can do minor procedures there on site, but wildlife with major injuries will be taken to a veterinary clinic.

When the injured wildlife arrives, a full medical evaluation is done and a treatment plan is decided upon. Mcguire said that animals can be in care anywhere from a week to several months.

“When the animal is ready, it undergoes a release evaluation to make sure it is fit for life in the wild,” McGuire said. “This is my favorite part.”

They try to release the animal back to the location where it was found. When that’s not possible, there are private property owners who have offered their land as a location for wildlife release.

If you come across injured wildlife, McGuire said the best thing you can do is to call them.

“Depending on the species, age and nature of the injury we can walk you through a safe capture and rescue or if it is unsafe to do so we can dispatch a rescue,” she said. “Never try to feed an injured or orphaned animal.”

It’s important to never use rat poison as the impacts can be far-reaching. Only use wildlife friendly fencing.

There are many ways to support SCWR’s work. You can become a member, volunteer or consider signing up for their mailing list. They send out announcements for small fundraisers and to request items that they need.

Scott said the local community of animal lovers has been very supportive.

“We appreciate your readiness to take in animals as fosters, all who have adopted and everyone who has participated in a Zoom conference with a dog or cat,” he said. “We feel very blessed to be in this community with its love of animals.”

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