Overlooked in the more immediate drama of this week's floods were dozens of aged and disabled dogs nearly buried under tons of mud and water when a hillside gave way outside the Humane Animal Rescue Team headquarters near Fillmore.
In the early hours of Tuesday's rain, volunteers at the Grimes Canyon Road kennel scrambled to free dogs and other animals from a thick stew of mud and debris that rolled into the 45-acre shelter within minutes.
Before noon, five feet of wet dirt, rocks and tree limbs had congealed on the property, destroying thousands of dollars worth of equipment, food and supplies.
Throughout the day, a team of rescue volunteers worked to save the four dozen animals.
"We just went running, and dragged them into the house," said Suzanne Kane, president of the nonprofit animal shelter, who lives on the grounds. "We set them up in bathrooms, bedrooms, whatever we could find."
The Humane Animal Rescue Team is a nonprofit group of animal lovers dedicated to providing homes to neglected or abandoned pets. For 11 years, Kane has sheltered Ventura County's most frail and needy creatures that might otherwise be put to sleep.
Ventura County animal control officers Bob Wisma and Beau Hughes spent five hours Tuesday trying to reach the Fillmore animal shelter to rescue the dogs.
Road closures and severe flooding prevented them from reaching the center until late in the afternoon, but once they arrived they were able to transport more than a dozen dogs to safety.
"They were lucky," Wisma said of the shelter operators. "Just beyond that, the road was just inundated with mud and water. There were landslides and rocks."
Wisma and Hughes made two trips to the kennels Tuesday, moving 13 dogs to the Camarillo shelter at Ventura County Animal Regulation. Earlier that day, the two officers helped rescue up to 20 dogs from the swollen Ventura River.
Richard Miyahira, a Camarillo engineer who also volunteers at the kennel, said he drove nearly three hours to get to the shelter.
"We saw all the mess and all of the damage that occurred, and were able to get four of the dogs out of there," he said. "We took them to a kennel in Simi Valley, and then kept in close contact with Suzanne by car phone."
County Animal Regulation Director Kathy Jenks said she has already begun looking for foster homes for the 13 dogs rescued from the Fillmore kennel.
"We'll keep them for as long as she needs them to be kept here," she said. "But these are not the easiest animals to find homes for. Some of them were abused, and they're shy around people. Others have chronic medical problems that people don't want to be responsible for."
Many of the four dozen dogs and cats already have been placed in temporary quarters. But with more than a dozen deaf, blind or disabled dogs rummaging through her living room, Kane is desperate for more help.
"Right now we need foster homes," she said. "We need to get all the dogs in safe shelter."
Kane said she hopes to relocate the shelter closer to Fillmore, where many of her volunteers live. But it will take at least $1 million to plan and construct the new facilities, money the nonprofit group does not have on hand, she said.
Design work on the new shelter and repairs on the existing facility will not even begin until the weather turns warmer, she said.
"We've got another couple of months before we know how much rain we're going to get," Kane said.
The Humane Animal Rescue Team, a nonprofit agency dedicated to caring for dogs and other animals that have been abused or abandoned, suffered severe damage in this week's flood. Volunteers are working to repair the estimated $100,000 in damages and raise at least $1 million for a new center outside the flood zone. Anyone interested in making a donation should contact Suzanne Kane at 524-4542.