Janell Matthies, emergency services manager for United Animal Nations, at the Santa Barbara Human Society with a fond Basset hound.

Animals, too, have their angels.

Judy, an 83-pound tortoise, was among the more unusual guests at the Santa Barbara Humane Society on Saturday, May 9. But she had plenty of company. An emu, chickens, chinchillas, songbirds, and horses – along with hundreds of dogs and cats – crowded an emergency center, set up at the center’s Overpass Road shelter, for pets displaced by the Jesusita Fire.

Humane Society staffers have been sleeping on the shelter grounds since the fire broke out Tuesday, May 5, said Peggy Langle, executive director. All areas, from vet cages to visiting rooms, have been turned over to disaster care. By late Thursday night, with the waiting room overflowing and more folks crowding the parking lot, the Overpass Road shelter needed help.

Judy the 83-pound tortoise, waiting out the fire.

Not long before midnight, Langle called PetSmart Charities Inc., a nonprofit arm of the pet-store retail chain, which runs an emergency relief program. By 1:30 a.m. Friday, the Humane Society had been approved for a grant. A semi with hundreds of crates was headed her way.

And from Sacramento, nonprofit United Animal Nations (UAN) had dispatched an emergency operations manager to set up the disaster unit. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Langle said.

The semi arrived before dawn, and five women unloaded contents in assembly-line fashion.

UAN’s Janell Matthies oversaw an effort that transformed a 3,000-square-foot storage building into the expanded shelter. Volunteer crews removed building contents, sterilized the site, and set up one room for dogs, another for cats. Red-shirted volunteers, through UAN’s Emergency Animal Rescue Service program, or EARS, spent one-on-one time with dogs and cats to help keep animals’ stress levels down.

Owners, too, felt calmer knowing their furred and feathered friends were safe.

A evacuated cat at the Santa Barbara Humane Society shelter during the Jesusita Fire.

“It takes a huge burden off of them,” Matthies said.

Humane Society staff estimated they housed more than 500 pets during the fire. On Saturday, when mandatory evacuation orders eased, some headed home. Barbara Barker and Scott Turnbull, who live in the San Roque area, picked up their three Pembroke Welsh Corgis in the afternoon: Scooter, Cleme and Louie Loo.

“This is a great service,” Barker said. Plus, it was free. “We will, of course, donate,” added Turnbull.

Humane Society staffers Tim Collins and Guy Hernandez rescued 34 horses, two burros, an alpaca, and four goats during the blaze. Most of these large animals stayed at Earl Warren Showgrounds, which also serves as the staging area for the firefighters.

Neither the people nor the animals have had much sleep since the fire broke out.

“It’s my longest Tuesday ever,” Hernandez joked.


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