Saving the Pets of the California Wildfires

By Kelly Gorman Dunbar

When catastrophic fires strike, we automatically think about decimated forests, razed homes, and citizens fleeing with just the clothes on their backs. But what about the animals?

Nearly two weeks ago I woke up to a very dark sky. As I opened up the door to let my dogs out, the acrid scent hit me. Living in California, I know all too well the smell of fire. Not the pleasant, woodsy smell of roasting marshmallows on an open flame, but rather, the noxious odor that permeates the air when homes, businesses, and cars are being incinerated.

Two massive fires hit my state on the same day, November 8, 2018: the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, destroying over 90,000 acres, and the Camp Fire in the northern part of the state, reducing 150,000 acres of land and property to ashes, including the entire town of Paradise. Tens of thousands of displaced people and animals alike have been left reeling in their wakes.

Most people think nothing of leaving their pets safely at home when they head off to work or school. But The Campfire started on a Thursday morning when people had already left for the day. By the time evacuations were ordered and fire lines drawn, most pets were trapped all alone, unable to flee or defend themselves. Valiant firefighters rescued many of them; some managed to escape, fleeing miles away, lost to their terrified families.

What happens when an area is inundated with thousands of lost animals after a disaster? In this case, an incredible group came to the rescue of the Camp Fire victims. The North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG) has set up a temporary animal shelter at the Chico airport, non-functioning at the moment due to the Camp Fire. I’ve been driving from the Bay Area San to deliver supplies for the over 1700 displaced and lost pets taken in over the past two weeks. It’s a massive effort. The NVADG is doing crucial if heart-wrenching work.

While at the shelter, volunteers have shared wonderful stories of people reuniting with their beloved animal companions; hopefully, there will be many more to come. Some of the rescued animals that have found their way to the emergency shelter have burns, some to the point of being physically unrecognizable. All are terrified and disoriented. They are getting the necessary care, but this is a dark reminder to make sure your pets are microchipped and that they wear a flat collar with tags when left home alone. It is also a good idea to teach your dog to be comfortable in a crate so that if disaster strikes, capture and confinement won’t cause them to panic and increase their already high level of stress.

Thanks to the kindness of hundreds of people, the NVADG now have plenty of supplies. However, many animals in their care require medical attention or special diets. The best way to support their cause is to send in a monetary donation if you are able. Visit

In times of such sadness and loss, it is comforting to know that there are good, altruistic souls out there, doing all they can to support the victims of disaster. My hope is that over the next few weeks all families – furry or otherwise – are reunited so they may find comfort in each other as they pick up their lives and begin to rebuild.

Scroll to top