The miracle pets of Lake County

February 27, 2016

One of the many heartbreaking aspects of the tragic Valley fire in northern California was the widespread loss of pets, livestock and animals. The fires of September 2015 claimed more than 75,000 acres and the lives of four people, and left thousands of dogs, cats, horses, chickens and other animals to fend for themselves in the charred rubble.
Miraculously, many of these animals have been reunited with their owners thanks to amazing search and rescue efforts across the region.
These search and rescue efforts have been largely coordinated by Lake Evacuation and Animal Protection (LEAP), a combined effort between Lake County Animal Care and Control and a dedicated group of highly trained volunteers. When first responders from local fire departments and law enforcement rushed in to fight the Valley fire, they called upon LEAP to help evacuate animals, shelter the lost animals and provide temporary emergency care for them. Lake County Animal Care and Control transformed into a MASH unit for animals when the fire struck, working tirelessly for days on end without breaks to care for a sudden and large population of lost dogs, cats, horses and other livestock.
To this day, many animals are still receiving reduced-cost and free care from LEAP and the Lake County ACC after the fire disrupted the lives of residents in need.
Lake County is a primarily agricultural region. Though best known for its vineyards and wine production, cattle and horses are also incredibly important to the Lake County economy and lifestyle. When the Valley fire forced sudden and immediate evacuations of Lake County, many residents did not have the time or equipment to load their animals, particularly large livestock requiring trailers. Limited trailer space forced many evacuees to make heartbreaking decisions on which animals to evacuate.
With heavy hearts, residents had to leave many animals behind and simply hope for the best with the massive fires closing in. But their hopes were answered by LEAP, which made sure the lost animals were cared for and found their way home.
Consider the tale of Tia, a husky-pitbull mix who managed to escape her burning house and somehow survive in the rubbled wilderness for 116 days. Her owners posted flyers and chased after every lead for nearly four months. A neighbor eventually found Tia, dog tags still intact, and tracked down her owners using social media. The tale of Tia’s incredible reunion is told in this inspiring news video.
There are many stories like Tia’s; stories of hope for pet owners and animal lovers in the Year of Recovery 2016 calendar, a 12-month calendar created by Horse and Livestock Team Emergency Response (HALTER) featuring the four-legged survivors of the Valley fire. Each month features one of the dogs, cats, horses, goats or even lizards and turtles who were trapped in the fire—yet somehow had the instincts to survive.
The $20 calendar is available online and at a number of northern California retail and pet stores, with all proceeds benefiting the Middletown Animal Hospital in Lake County.
There’s Ditto, an adorable miniature horse you’ll find in the June month of the 2016 Year of Recovery calendar. Ditto was forced to flee her pasture as the blaze approached, and she suffered a facial injury in the encounter and lost one of her eyes. A good Samaritan found her and brought her to Middletown Animal Hospital, where she was treated. She would eventually be reunited with her owners.
Tia’s and Ditto’s stories are some of the many inspiring tales that live on months after the Valley fire. You can support Lake County’s uplifting recovery with a purchase of the Year of Recovery 2016 calendar and a visit to Lake County to learn firsthand how the wineries, restaurants, shops and hotels are bouncing back from the fires.
The recovery remains underway with plenty of work to be done, but the resilience of Lake County residents and their pets embodies what a remarkably special breed they truly are.