When a wildfire hits and people have to evacuate their homes, they often refuse to leave their pets behind. They pack their dogs in carriers and crates and head to the nearest emergency animal shelter, if there is one.
But increasingly people are refusing to separate from their pets, even if that means they can’t sleep in an evacuation center.
That was the case during the massive wildfire in Northern California that erupted last week.
Amy Faubion said she wanted to sleep in the air-conditioned shelter with her dogs, but she couldn't
“They don’t allow you with pets in there," Faubion said. "So, I had to sleep with them on the ground in their crates, and I slept in the passenger seat of my car. Actually, I didn’t really sleep.”
Others were doing the same: braving triple-digit temperatures and thick smoke to sleep next to their cats and dogs.This wasn’t safe, and with so many people pouring into these shelters with pets in tow, the centers needed to set up another option.
Eventually, they did. Volunteers cleared out a warehouse at the campus farm and hauled in a large air conditioner so people could sleep next to their pets.
Then Dr. Kara Tennant of Care Animal Hospital in Redding volunteered her staff.
"I heard that animals were overheating because they were all on the football field," Tennant said. "Our clinic was evacuated, so we were closed today anyway.”
She wasn’t surprised that most people wouldn’t leave their pets behind. She says pets are family: they are like children.
“They used to just stay outside," Tennant said. "But now they’re in the house, they are in our beds, they’re with our kids, they’re the family. People don’t want to leave them. People don’t want them to suffer. ”
Judy Henderson also slept in her truck with her pets during her first night at the shelter. She says she knows why people stick by their cats and dogs.
“They don't abandon you when you're sick," Henderson said. "They’re right there for you. They don’t abandon you when you’re sad or lonely. They're right there for you. That’s why people are so dedicated to their animals.”
Henderson was looking for her cat that ran away. She was distraught.
"When I don’t feel good she’s right there in my face and giving me little pats on the cheek and loving me and stuff, and you can’t say that about a lot of people," Henderson said.
Robert Miller also lost his cat, but it was before he got to the shelter. He told me doesn’t even like him very much, because he’s a typical cat: he meows a lot. He gets in your face. He’s kind of annoying.
But his daughter loves the cat, and he loves his daughter, Jesse. He tried to keep a handle on the cat as they were evacuating, but he just slipped through his arms.
“I told Jesse if he doesn’t want to get caught, he won’t get caught," Miller said. "And I feel, it’s the most… It’s the most important thing to her. And, I tried to get back to get him, but they wouldn't let me in."
Emotions are high in a tragedy such as this. Stress and anger and sadness come bubbling up in different ways. And if people could sleep knowing that their dog or cat is safe nearby, they could at least have that bit of reassurance. That they didn’t abandon their family.