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Animals big and small get an assist during the Valley fire in San Diego

Clint Ganus holds open a gate for Pierre Nowak, who was bringing water for his horse in Lawson Valley on Wednesday.
Clint Ganus, a member of the San Diego Humane Society’s emergency response team, holds open a gate for Pierre Nowak, who was bringing water for his horse, Diesel, in Lawson Valley on Wednesday.
(Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Sherry Moland spent part of Wednesday afternoon at Iron Oak Canyon Ranch in Spring Valley with her adopted 8-year-old horse, Whisper, tending to the horse’s physical and emotional needs.

As Moland put salve on the horse’s hooves, stroked her mane and fed her some fresh hay in the hazy sunshine off Campo Road, she said her home is not in the fire zone at present but that she wasn’t taking any chances. She remembered well going through the Harris fire in 2007, just a few months after moving into her Campo home.

She said on Monday she called the San Diego Humane Society about a pickup and the San Diego County Department of Animal Services picked Whisper up and brought her to safety.

This dog was able to stay at Steele Canyon High with his family after they fled the Valley fire.
This dog was able to stay at Steele Canyon High with his family after they fled the Valley fire. Other animals need help being evacuated. The San Diego Humane Society and the San Diego County Department of Animal Services are partnering to help animals small and large.
(Karen Pearlman / San Diego Union-Tribune)
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The Humane Society’s emergency response team has been working in the field with Animal Services, evacuating animals and bringing them to safety during the Valley fire. The partnership ensures that there is a coordinated response for those in need and that the resources of both groups are deployed efficiently.

Although Moland’s home thus far has been spared, she said she knows well how the wind could change and send embers her way.

“We’re on standby for evacuation,” Moland said. “We live in a fire zone, it’s going to happen. Just be prepared.”

Whisper is one of more than 50 animals currently housed at Iron Oak Canyon Ranch, brought by residents who have been evacuated during the fire or, like Moland, are preparing for a worst-case scenario. She said unless something changes with the fire, she plans to keep Whisper there until Saturday or Sunday.

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Whisper is in good company, with several other horses, more than two dozen alpacas, some goats, chickens and turkeys. The private boarding ranch, formerly known as Bright Valley Farms, is lending its barrel racing arena to the San Diego Humane Society, which has been working with Animal Services to provide shelter, food and water to animals in its care.

Members of the San Diego Humane Society's emergency response team feed livestock at a Lawson Valley home.
Danee Cook, left, and Joy Ollinger, members of the San Diego Humane Society’s emergency response team, feed livestock at a Lawson Valley home on Wednesday.
(Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Kelly Campbell, director of Animal Services, said between the groups, they are caring for more than 300 animals — from horses to dogs and cats — at temporary emergency boarding shelters in Lakeside at the Rodeo Arena and at El Capitan High, at the county’s main shelter in Bonita and at the Iron Oak Canyon site.

Campbell said that if California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reports over the next few nights show that the fire is being contained, and it is safe to do so, the sites will close and people will be able to take their animals home.

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Animal Services and the Humane Society are working together to help not only animals in their care, but also to go behind the fire lines to care for animals as part of “shelter in place.” Their dispatch teams are sharing a Google document, which keeps track of addresses affected during the fire and the individual needs of animals that were not evacuated.

“Any animal that’s stuck on property [that] owners can’t get there or they can’t leave and come back and are behind fire lines, they are going in and they’re taking care of the animals,” said John Peaveler, administrative lieutenant of emergency services for the San Diego Humane Society.

 Joy Ollinger of the San Diego Humane Society provides food and water to a turtle and some livestock in Lawson Valley.
Joy Ollinger of the San Diego Humane Society provides food and water to a turtle and some livestock in Lawson Valley on Wednesday.
(Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)

With the electricity still off and some homeowners’ pumps depending on power for water, the Humane Society’s truckloads of water were a welcome sight for those people in the fire zone who didn’t evacuate.

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Sometimes it’s even just the little things that make a big difference. On Wednesday, a pet turtle had flipped onto its back in his cage, and a member of the Humane Society team was able to flip him back over.

The COVID-19 health emergency has presented some issues that hadn’t been a concern during other fires over the years. While the ranch in Spring Valley lets people visit and mingle with their animals, “as long as they don’t sleep here,” Peaveler said, the county has other rules in place.

The Humane Society is staffing the Rodeo Arena, but it is under county supervision. Evacuees dropping off horses at the Lakeside grounds are not allowed to stay with the animals because of COVID-19.

While the hope is that the fire will be contained, the groups are telling people that if they are in imminent fire danger and need immediate assistance with their animals, they should contact Animal Services at (619) 236-2341.

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For those looking to bring their animals to safe areas, the Bonita shelter is at 5821 Sweetwater Road; the Iron Oak Canyon Ranch is at 12310 Campo Road in Spring Valley; the Rodeo Arena is at 12584 Mapleview St. in Lakeside. People with smaller pets such as dogs and cats can also bring them to El Capitan High at 10410 Ashwood St. in Lakeside.

The San Diego Humane Society said it is also providing pet food and supplies at Humane Society campuses from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. The campuses are at 5500 Gaines St. in San Diego, 3500 Burnet Drive in Escondido and 2905 San Luis Rey Drive in Oceanside.


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