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‘We’re in It for the Long Haul:’ Camp Fire Animal Shelters to Remain Open

November 23, 2018

Ducks rescued from the Camp Fire huddle in a shelter at the Chico Municipal Airport set up by the North Valley Animal Disaster Group Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

CHICO, California -- Inside a jet hangar at the Chico Municipal Airport, some 800 dogs, ducks, cats, pigs, geese -- even a 6-foot-long-python -- are waiting patiently for their humans.

The North Valley Animal Disaster Group, which sprang into action within hours of the start of the Camp Fire, is working on shifting the animals to a more permanent location operated by the Humane Society of the United States. Located in Richvale, a 20-minute drive from Chico, the new shelter will serve as a long-term home for small animals while their handlers find more stable housing.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” said Norm Rosene, a spokesman and volunteer for the animal disaster group, an all-volunteer organization that responds in times of crisis.

More than 1,600 animals both large and small are being cared for across four shelters, he said, down from 1,900 at its height. Butte County officials are encouraging displaced residents to collect their furry friends as soon as they are allowed back to homes that weren’t damaged by the fire, or when their housing situations become more settled. Eventually, Rosene said those four shelters will all be consolidated at Richvale, with large animals likely placed elsewhere on ranches.

Virginia “Ginger” Betts lost her home in Magalia in the blaze. She had been operating an informal rescue at her home, caring for 10 cats and feeding about six semi-feral ones, she said. She escaped with her 10 domesticated cats, but couldn’t round up the semi-feral ones in the chaos of evacuating. She dropped the 10 cats off at Chico airport before knowing where she would sleep the night.

“I was most concerned about them,” she said.

She’s been staying at Azad’s Martial Arts Center, which canceled classes to begin operating as an emergency shelter for displaced residents. The center will return to normal classes after Friday, but Betts isn’t sure whether she’ll go to another shelter or stay with a stranger who offered to host her and her daughter for a week or two. Either way, she won’t be bringing the cats.

And, she’s still not sure whether she’ll buy a mobile home for her Magalia property while she rebuilds or move “down the hill” into Chico or Oroville, which she had considered doing before the fire. She had trouble finding places to rent that would allow so many animals, she said. Now, those prospects seem even slimmer.

“Where do you go with 10 cats?” she said.

The shelter takes great pains to reduce the stress on animals, Rosene said. They play music during parts of the day to calm them and keep them on a regular schedule. Dogs are walked twice a day.

The group has contact information for most of the animals’ humans, he said, and the ones found as strays that might have fled in panic from the fire are all being housed at the Chico airport. Photos of animals missing their handlers can be found online at CampFireRescuedAnimals.com .

They will not be adopted out until the group gets word their human is either deceased and the animal can’t be cared for by a family member or if the owner tells the disaster group they can’t care for them, Rosene said. The group is also working on establishing a foster program to care for animals outside the shelter while their owners find more stable housing. That program is expected to be up and running shortly, he said.

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