At the Animal Hospital of Cotati this week, veterinary technician Elizabeth Pierce leaned over to cocoon a terrified cat whose bright red and peeling paw pads revealed heartbreaking evidence of a wildfire’s scorching rage.
“You’re OK. You’re OK,” Pierce soothed as veterinarian Katheryn Hinkle stuck a needle into one of the cat’s hind legs and pushed the plunger down. “We love you.”
Within seconds, the black-and-white cat, given the name Sylvester by the hospital’s staff, settled down, and soon, was out completely. Hinkle unwrapped the bandages on one of the cat’s paws to begin the laborious process of disinfecting the wounds and removing dead tissue. She applied fresh burn cream on the pads before she and another vet tech re-wrapped the injury and moved on to the next paw.
The hourlong treatment was fitted in between other appointments. The cat, one of two being treated at the Cotati hospital for burn injuries suffered in the Valley fire, was put back in a cage sporting fresh bandages and a morphine patch.
“This is a long haul,” Hinkle said.
Similar scenes are playing out at veterinary clinics across Northern California as medical staffs confront the long-term challenges of caring for animals injured in the state’s late-summer wildfires, including the Valley fire that broke out Sept. 12 on Cobb Mountain in Lake County. The fire destroyed at least 1,280 homes as it raced through more than 76,000 acres in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties. The blaze’s containment was at 97 percent on Friday, according to Cal Fire.
Besides massive property losses and human injuries and deaths, California’s wildfires have exacted a staggering toll on animals, killing and injuring legions and filling shelters with the newly homeless. The UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, one of the nation’s premier animal facilities, is near capacity after taking in injured animals from the Butte and Valley fires, according to a spokesman.
In the meantime, many residents who live in fire zones still frantically search for their missing pets. On websites such as www.valleyfireanimals.com, people post images of their pets, or of animals that have been found, hoping for a reunion.
At Petaluma Animal Services this week, Raymond Larson of Kelseyville retrieved his friend’s dog, a husky named Boo, which had gone missing after his owner was forced to evacuate his Cobb Mountain home. A Petaluma Animal Services officer who was helping out in Lake County in the aftermath of the fire found the dog wandering around Middletown.
“He’s been going crazy without his puppy,” Larson said of Boo’s owner.
Dozens of animals still go unclaimed in shelters and clinics, however. Only about 60 percent of the fire victims brought to UC Davis have been spoken for, spokesman Robb Warren said.
Midweek, the veterinary hospital was treating 40 cats, four horses, two pigs, two goats, two dogs, a rabbit and four chickens that were injured in the Butte and Valley fires.
That’s not counting two cats and a chicken that had to be euthanized because of the severity of their injuries. One of the cats was facing the prospect of having three of its legs amputated, Warren said.
There are also tragic stories of people surrendering their pets because they lost their homes in a fire.
Veterinarian Jeff Smith, owner of Middletown Animal Hospital, said one such case resolved happily when another person adopted an animal that was surrendered by its owner. Smith put a positive spin on the dire situation presented by the fire, calling the response a “great, exhausting, successful experience in the face of a pretty devastating backdrop.”