Flying Tails: Rescuing animals of wildfire victims in Sonoma County

Flying Tails

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) – As people flee their homes in the path of wildfires, many of them are especially worried about the animals they had to leave behind.

There are volunteer rescue groups going behind the fire lines to pull pets and livestock to safety but they’re often stopped by not only fire lines but red tape.

It’s a heartbreaking decision for some fire victims to flee home without the chance to bring their pets or lead their livestock to safety.

“I was getting calls, two o’clock, three o’clock in the morning. The owners in tears because they’ve been panicking about getting their animals out,” Shelina Moreda said.

Shelina Moreda is one of the founders of Northern California Livestock Rescue, established by a dozen volunteers after devastating fires three years ago.

The group now numbers close to 200 with a fleet of trucks and trailers at the ready.

“We’ve got some that are experts in cows. Some that are experts in horses. Some that are experts in sheep because sheep are really difficult,” Moreda said. 

She estimates the group rescues 1,000 to 2,000 animals per wildfire event.

During the Lightning Complex Fires in Sonoma County, the group rescued a herd of 14 horses.

Three were burned — One so badly it had to be put down but the others were brought to the UC Davis Veterinary Hospital, including Gidget who had burns to the face and body.

This is Gidget now recovering with other evacuated Livestock in Corrals at the Jordan Winery in Healdsburg.

Gidget’s owner lost her home in the fire but she says it was her horses that kept her up at night.

“Tell me how important these animals are to you? Oh, my goodness. They’re everything,” Sherri Cooper Johnston said. 

Getting these animals to safety sometimes leads to confrontation.

The volunteers insist fire safety is first and they don’t want to get in the way of firefighters.

“You don’t want to get into somewhere, get the animals loaded in your trailer, and try to go out and then you’re blocked in,” Moreda said. 

But some local agencies aren’t so welcoming and the group says it was forced to abandon rescue efforts in Butte County.

“They have prevented us from helping and we were up there working that fire for the first four days and then they effectively started locking animal rescue groups out,” Moreda said. 

Shelina says there should be a process where volunteers can be trained and vetted to go in with their equipment and save animals, freeing firefighters and others to do their jobs.

“People don’t want to get out of their homes unless they’ve got their animals out. People don’t just leave their animals in there.  They were stuck at work when the roads got blocked. They’re desperate to get their animals out,” Moreda said. 

More and more people are trying to draw attention to the needs of animals during wildfires. 

Rescue organizations are now starting to turn their attention to the California State Legislature to make it easier to get access to bring these animals to safety.

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