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What fire victims need to know about their animals

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

For animal owners displaced by the California wildfires, caring for pets in a shelter or new location, or trying to find a lost pet, brings a set of emotional and physical challenges.

"Pets are going to stress out just like their owners when a disaster strikes and alters their surroundings," said Madeline Bernstein, president of L.A.'s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"Pets will become depressed if they get separated from their owners and are more prone to becoming sick."

Some basic first steps:

* Remember to keep animals fed and hydrated. They can suffer from smoke inhalation too. Cats and smaller dogs usually have sensitive respiratory systems, so they may need medical attention if they are coughing irregularly.

* Always maintain close contact. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered, and your pet may become confused and lost.

* Keep calm if a pet's behavior changes for a bit after an emergency. Normally quiet and friendly pets may become aggressive or defensive.

If your pet was left behind or lost:

Visit or contact the local command center or disaster relief center to find out what agency is rescuing animals from your neighborhood. Normally, the county or city animal control agency will be responsible for retrieving stranded animals. Call (888) 738-7911 or visit www.pets911.com to find the phone numbers and locations of animal shelters or agencies nearby.

If you cannot find your pet with the help of a local animal rescue agency, check the Petfinder.com Foundation website at www.petfinder.com/disaster. The site updates statistics and contact information for animal shelters and rescued pets.

The foundation has also set up a 24-hour call center to link evacuees with volunteers willing to provide a temporary home for a displaced pet. You can search for a foster provider on the website or call (866) 654-4732.

"Pet owners need to remember to treat their animals just like humans who have gone through a traumatic experience," Bernstein said. "Coddle them, give them their favorite toy or snacks, and monitor their health in case you need to take them to a veterinarian."

francisco.varaorta@latimes.com

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