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Worried Owners of Missing House Pets Search Shelters : Animals: Most facilities report recovering only a few strays. Veterinarians treat survivors.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Phones at Orange County animal shelters rang off the hook Friday as worried fire victims searched for lost pets, but most shelters reported recovering only a few strays and had already contacted most owners, shelter workers said.

Some unclaimed animals remain scattered across the county in various animal hospitals and veterinarians’ offices, said Kathleen Goetz of the Laguna Beach Animal Hospital.

“In circumstances like this, everybody’s taking them in,” said Goetz, whose hospital received three dogs and notified their owners.

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At the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter on Laguna Canyon Road, manager Nancy Goodwin was also inundated with calls from frantic pet owners Friday.

“Every time you hang up, it rings again,” she said. “We’re trying to limit calls to three minutes.

Goodwin said the shelter received eight stray animals--three dogs, three cats, a rabbit and a bird--and is holding the pets until owners can come for them. The Orange County Animal Shelter in Orange reported receiving five stray dogs, but has already contacted their owners, said Mark McDorman, chief of field operations for the shelter.

The Newport Beach/Corona del Mar Animal Shelter said the five dogs they received have been returned to their owners.

Shelters in others towns also reported finding few stray pets.

“We were expecting a lot of stray animals to come into the shelter, but it hasn’t happened,” said Jill Ashton, a volunteer with the Irvine Animal Care Center.”Everybody in Laguna Beach has a pet. It’s that kind of a community.

“I don’t know if it means a lot of the animals have died or if the owners have found them,” she said.

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A 12-year-old German shepherd, who escaped the blaze when she ran down the hill behind her owner’s home at 1565 Skyline Drive, was staying at the Laguna Beach shelter. She was discovered sitting near the wreckage Thursday morning by a Laguna Beach animal control officer, said Kalyan Farrington, whose stepmother owns the dog.

“She’s still at the pound. We don’t know where to put her,” Farrington said, but added the family would probably pick her up today as they made their way back to Laguna Beach to search through the rubble of their home. The Farringtons’ other German shepherd, Woofer, is missing.

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While some called the Laguna Beach shelter, others walked in, hoping to see a familiar face. “We lost two cats,” said Jan Troutner, a Laguna Beach resident who also lost her house. “And our neighbors’ dogs are gone too. I’m afraid the smoke may have gotten them,” she said.

The shelter did not have their pets.

Goodwin said the shelter is recording descriptions of lost animals and keeping a list of people who can keep pets in their yards while owners search for new homes. The shelter is also collecting money for the “Laguna Beach Animal Shelter Fire Fund,” to defray boarding costs, she said.

McDorman said Orange County shelter workers searched the Emerald Bay area Thursday and found only two dead animals, both dogs. He said another dead dog was found in the El Morro Beach Mobile Home Park.

Some stray pets and wild animals have been picked up by veterinarians and animal hospitals. One Dana Point veterinarian said he treated a burned cat and is hoping to find the owner.

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“His feet are pretty sore, but other than that, he seems to be good,” said Dr. James Bridges of the Dana Capistrano Animal Clinic at 33611 Del Obispo St. in Dana Point.

Bridges said the 3-year-old neutered male was a smoky color--before the fire. “But now it’s black.”

The tip of the cat’s ears and his whiskers were burned, and his fur was so charred it turned into “a short, velcro-looking coat,” Bridges said. The cat was found Thursday in front of 1326 Skyline Drive.

Michael Kamara and his friend, Gabe Johnson, were walking around the ruins on San Joaquin Hills Road, taking photos of the Ortega fire when they came across a burned rabbit that was lying in a hole.

“It looked like the bunny had been running away from the fire and dug a hole for himself just the perfect size of his body,” said Kamara, 20, of Costa Mesa. “It’s back was completely burned. His elbow joint was bleeding and I honestly did not think he was still alive.”

The two took the rabbit to the Corona del Mar Animal Hospital, which is treating the rabbit free of charge. Veterinarians said the animal’s body was more than 40% burned and he is blind in one eye, Kamara said.

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“After hearing about all the things that have been destroyed, I think it’s great to see that he will make it through,” Kamara, 20, said Thursday night. “As soon as he is better, (the hospital) will release him back into the wild.”

Animal shelters were forced to evacuate hundreds of animals during the blaze Wednesday afternoon and are just now moving them back in, Goodwin said. The Laguna Beach Animal Shelter moved 16 dogs, six cats, a rabbit, two crows and two parakeets to the Irvine Animal Center on Wednesday, but all are now safely back in the Laguna shelter, which barely escaped the blaze.

The fire forced the evacuation of nearly 300 animals from kennels and shelters in Laguna Canyon, said Susan Hamil, office manager of the Canyon Animal Hospital on Laguna Canyon Road. Several animal shelters and animal control centers worked together to save the animals from the blaze, she said.

“We removed every animal from this canyon in about an hour and a half on Wednesday afternoon. That was a lot of work,” Hamil said. Among those evacuated were 150 cats from the Blue Bell Country Club for Cats on Laguna Canyon Road.

A retired schoolteacher left $300,000 from her $1-million estate to keep the shelter operating after her death in 1989. Many of the cats’ owners have paid a hefty sum so their pets can live out their golden years in the lap of luxury.

The cats were sent to El Toro Animal Hospital, which also received a peahen, a goose and a rabbit from a local nursery school, said veterinarian Scott Weldy.

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Weldy said he is keeping some parrots, a cockatoo and three hawks in his garage for clients who were affected by the fire.

The Orange County Fairgrounds has taken in 90 horses and 30 to 40 head of livestock from fire-scorched areas in Emerald Bay and Coto de Caza, said Larry Gimple, manager of the fairground’s equestrian center.

He expected 20 more horses to come in from Coto de Caza on Friday, and said the grounds has 60 more portable stalls available.

“We’re charging cost, and if it becomes a hardship, then we don’t charge anything,” Gimple said.

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