At the height of the Thomas Fire last month, volunteers with the Santa Barbara Equine Evacuation and Assistance Team at Earl Warren Showgrounds were caring for more than 600 evacuated animals, many from the Montecito area. On January 12, a few days after mudslides swept through the community, these same volunteers — who have been working nearly nonstop since early December — have approximately 60 animals in their care.
“When the fire died down, many owners and residents returned to their homes [with] their animals,” said volunteer Barbara Essex. “Unfortunately, many chose to either ignore these latest evacuation orders or simply didn’t have time to get their animals out.”
Now — faced with mandatory evacuations and safety exclusions zones — many of these same animal owners face unique challenges. Some have not been able to get back to their properties to tend to their animals. Others have been isolated in the disaster area with dwindling supplies of feed and water.
“People don’t realize that for us to go in and rescue their animals, we need a police escort,” Essex said. “With lots of heavy equipment and [emergency] personnel around, these animal evacuations can be a real challenge.”
It’s a similar story over at the Santa Barbara Humane Society. “We had close to 800 animals during the [Thomas Fire], but now have just over 20,” spokesperson Clair Lofthouse said, adding that the Humane Society is also facing unique challenges. “We haven’t really ever had to deal with rescue and recovery before,” she said. “We’re not really geared up for it. We have sent in our humane officer, Tim Collins, as he is the most trained member of staff [to] assess the situation on the ground.”
Both organizations have also been affected by the closure of Highway 101, as volunteers and staff from south of Montecito have had their route shut off. “Ordinarily we would welcome new volunteers, but we don’t have the staff to train them right now,” Lofthouse said.
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Santa Barbara County Animal Services organizes most ani- mal rescue and recovery efforts; it also holds the bodies of deceased animals for identification at 5473 Overpass Road, Goleta.
Those trying to locate lost pets should call the county hotline: 681-4332.