For the past couple of weeks, Montecito resident and Santa Barbara City College professor Kathy O’Connor has been sleeping in her horse trailer at Earl Warren Showgrounds. As president of the Santa Barbara Equine Assistance & Evacuation Team, O’Connor — herself a Thomas Fire evacuee, along with her horses — has been leading the effort to relocate and evacuate all manner of animals displaced by the natural disaster. Along with horses, her team, working in conjunction with Santa Barbara County Animal Services and the Santa Barbara Humane Society, has looked after cows, donkeys, alpacas, goats, sheep, geese, ducks, an emu, and pigs.

“Our purpose is to provide services to our community in times of emergency,” O’Connor said. “Fire, flood, whatever — we will help evacuate animals and shelter and care for them when their owners can’t.” At the peak of the fire, the showgrounds became home to more than 600 animals spread out in about 500 stalls.

“After the Painted Cave Fire, we realized somebody needs to be around to help horse owners because many people have no place to go and don’t know what to do with their animals,” O’Connor said. “We wanted to make sure there was a safe haven.”

Paul Wellman

Feeding, watering, and cleaning stalls can be challenging, she added. The group has received help from local vets, La Cumbre Feed, and Earl Warren staff. It has even had help from as far afield as Reno, Las Vegas, and Oregon. “It was amazing,” O’Connor said. “This guy showed up last week [from Reno] with a truckload of hay and shavings. Then two days later he shows up again, with a big horse trailer full of equipment, more hay, dog food, cat food — it was amazing!”

With no immediate end in sight for the fire, O’Connor and her team plan to keep looking after the animals however needed for as long as possible.

Funded primarily by donations, they welcome contributions through their Venmo account, @SBEquine-EvacTeam. They also welcome adult volunteers, especially those with horse experience. Volunteers are encouraged to simply show up at Earl Warren rather than call the hotline. They also politely remind people they are not a zoo — they do not need any looky-loos.

More information about the Santa Barbara Equine Assistance & Evacuation Team can be found at its website or by calling its hotline at (805) 892-4484.


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