Forced to flee in the early morning darkness, many Sonoma County residents had only minutes to decide what to take. Many left with virtually nothing, except their animals, and began networking with others to find the community shelters and resources who would support evacuees with animals.
Finley Hall at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds is filled with cots, and with evacuees from Santa Rosa’s northeast neighborhoods: from Montgomery Village, Bennett Valley, Montecito Heights, Fountaingrove, Riebli Road, Coffey Park. On Tuesday, the big hall was dimly lit, and staffed with volunteers from the community and Red Cross. They’re stationed to register people arrive in a steady stream at the door, and circulate constantly through the hall.
These volunteers, with their positive smiles and earnest attention, are extremely popular with the evacuees: they distribute kitty litter and kibble, crates and water bowls and clean up after accidents, which are bound to happen, considering the number of dogs, cats, rabbits and kittens, parrots and other pets, now sheltering here side by side. Despite the number of animals in close proximity, the hall is surprising quiet. The residents are shockingly well behaved. Golden retrievers, huskies and black labs lounge a foot or two from each other, leashed at their owner’s feet, while toy poodles and spaniels curl on Red Cross blankets. Cats recline in spacious cages.
Finley is one of the temporary shelters for residents who’ve fled their homes with their pets. Now, they’re waiting for news of what’s happening outside, unsure when they’ll go home, or whether they’ll find any home at all. The fire, set loose in the forest and blown into rural neighborhoods and down city streets, continues to be ruthlessly destructive.
For some here, their pets may be all they have left.
Fortunately, the Sonoma County community network that leaps into action when disaster strikes, is also providing aid and shelter to people with animals. The fairgrounds is one of several locations taking them in (a list of the centers that are available is posted on page D3). In addition to the smaller creatures, the fairgrounds is also providing stables for horses and other large animals. On Tuesday morning, trailers were still lining up at Gate 7 off Aston Avenue, looking for shelter. Many more had arrived the previous day.
With smoky haze hanging in the air, Katrina Ortiz, a volunteer from Petaluma Horse Rescue, was helping to tend to some of the 31 horses who’d arrived overnight from Cloverleaf Ranch. A number of them had burns and cuts, singed manes and other injuries.
Nearby aisles and stalls were busy with the sound and commotion of arriving large animals, many unaccustomed to the new surroundings. One resident who said she had come in from Bennett Valley, was trying to calm a nervous tan, one of the three horses she’d brought here, including a miniature and two full-sized horses. She had her two French bulldogs with her as well, rescue dogs.
The fire, she said, rolled up and over the ridge with stunning speed, a true nightmare, forcing them out. On the next aisle over, four inquisitive llamas peered from stalls. They were being tended by a young man who’d brought them to safety from a ranch near Healdsburg.
Inside Finley Hall, Doreen Van Leeuwen, a licensed marriage and family therapist and Red Cross volunteer, emphasized how important it was for many, faced with the uncertainty and stress of losing their home and sudden evacuation, to keep their pets with them.