What started out as a need to find homeowner's pets during the 2015 Lake County, California Fire has since blossomed into a vast network of volunteers whose mission is to rescue and reunify animals with their families after similar disasters. Our group, Pet Rescue and Reunification, has since assisted at the California fires in Sonoma and Napa (Oct 2017), Mendocino (October 2017 and Mendocino Complex 2018), and Redding (Carr Fire 2018). Some of these groups are still in the field a year later, continuing to support the rescue effort.
History After a devastating fire in California's Lake County in 2015, a group of concerned animal lovers noticed that there was no centralized database of lost and found pets to help families reunite after the fire. While shelters and rescues shared what they could, the posts on social media were chaotic and there was no database for "Good Samaritans" to post pets they were fostering. This group started organizing all the lost, found, and sighted animals into albums and began coordinating with community field rescuers.
Forming a Team After the 2017 fires in Sonoma and Napa, a structured and effective field rescue team formed. This new team merged the power and reach of social media with their data expertise in field rescue. Each time this "Pet Rescue and Reunification" team was alerted to the news of a new fire, they launched an online group to help communities organize their field rescues. The infrastructure put in place helps to prepare these same communities for future disasters.
The Camp Fire On November 8th, 2018, the group faced its greatest test as the communities of Paradise, Magalia and Concow were devastated by the "Camp Fire," the deadliest in California's history. Eleven thousand homes would be lost over the course of as many days. A new team was immediately deployed made up of veteran and new volunteers to begin the long process of documenting and rescuing the hundreds of cats, dogs, rabbits and other animals who were suddenly without a home or were injured during the fast-moving fire.
Our Work Many of our volunteers have several years' experience working across multiple counties, including in Shasta, Lake and Sonoma counties. We have won several awards for our work, including a "Community Hero" Merit Award from the City of Santa Rosa as well as a Certificate of Congressional Recognition.
Our Structure We are able to do so much to help pets and their families due to our structure. Each Pet Rescue & Reunification group is made up of three main teams: the Field Team, Administration Team and Matching Team.
The Field Team has worked with homeowners to set up over 100 feeding stations in the burn area that provide much needed fresh food and water to the pets that still remain. Volunteers go up daily to refresh the stations and look for activity. Other volunteers set up cameras to assess animal activity and identify lost pets. With permission, we then set up traps to rescue and reunify pets with their families.
The Administration Team has set up a huge database of missing and found pets with information received from Facebook posts or e-mails from owners. This information includes photos of pets, pet information, owner information, and consent from owners to access their property. Maintaining this database is critical to our operations, and gathering information from owners is key to reunification. Trapping a cat with no owner information results in the pet going into the shelter system rather than their own home, which is something to be avoided at all costs.
The Matching Team spends endless hours online matching photos of lost to found pets, reaching out to owners, and reuniting the pets. They are also available at a moment’s notice to the field crew when a cat is trapped, often resulting in a reunification within hours.
Transparency and Cooperation Our group knows that working together with other groups is the most effective way to rescue and reunite pets with their families. To that end, we follow these tenets:
We are volunteers. We have no administrative overhead, and all of group members work for free and refrain from fundraising for themselves.
We are an adjunct to county agencies and other rescues, not a replacement, and will coordinate with them as much as possible. This is neighbor helping neighbor.
We connect directly with community volunteer field rescuers, who we help organize and train to trap, feed, photograph, and shelter fire pets.
100% of donations are used for supplies, many of which are used again and again for multiple fires.
We are here for the long haul-- which may be months, or even years.