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Amid Arizona fire, animal shelter tends a menagerie of evacuated pets

Wildfires

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — In a library corridor on the campus of Yavapai College, signs are posted on columns and walls: "Please talk softly! Students are studying."

But at the moment, the signs aren't working on the dogs yapping down the hall. Their owners might be on cots in a gym on the other side of campus, but the animals — 29 dogs, 26 cats, three birds and a rabbit as of Monday evening — have a shelter all their own.

In a matter of hours, Animal Disaster Services — which has become well-practiced in responding to wildfires — can establish a refuge for pets that have been evacuated with their owners.

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Crates, cages, even a chain-link kennel had been put into a large room.

By afternoon, the animals had finally settled down, said Becky Salazar, the team leader for Animal Disaster Services for Yavapai County.

The dogs weren't barking as much as they had been. Some were sleeping, including a large shepherd on a leash.

Salazar said the animals reflected the fear of their owners.

"You've got a lot of stressed people coming in with a lot of stressed pets," she said.

The owners can check in their pet without having to worry, she said: Volunteers undergo rigorous training. Salazar said she has even learned how to take the temperature of a horse — "which is more than I ever wanted to know!"

The animals are fed, walked and bathed. Volunteers play with each pet, one on one.

These shelter setups can last as long as the evacuations are in place.

Salazar found her way to volunteering with animals after she moved to Arizona from Southern California. Her family's longtime pets had died, and instead of replacing them, she and her husband decided to volunteer with the disaster program and at a cat rescue. (She ended up replacing her pets anyway and now has five cats at home. She joked that she should have "'foster failure' stamped to my forehead.")

She finds the work gratifying.

"When you see people come in, you can see the fear in them — they're crying, they're scared — and the animals are so important to them," she said. "I know I can help ease that part of it."

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