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As wildfire season becomes year-round, nonprofit urges planning for pet safety during fires

Ventura County Fire Department
The Thomas Fire in 2017 destroyed at least 1,000 structures and caused billions of dollars of damage in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

As climate change and drought make wildfires a year-round hazard in California, many residents in high-risk areas must now take extra precautions — including keeping their pets safe when a fire threatens their home.

American Humane, a nonprofit which has been rescuing animals from disasters since 1915, is urging people to plan for their pets' safety if they live in a wildfire-prone area.

Last year its rescue team was deployed to California’ Caldor wildfire, which destroyed over 190,000 acres of homes.

The organization’s first responders provide veterinary care and shelter to pets displaced by wildfires, and to help reunite them with their owners.

With recent Central Coast wildfires like the 2017 Thomas Fire and the 2021 Alisal Fire, American Humane C.E.O Dr. Robin Ganzert said its rescue team is ready to deploy upon request by local agencies.

"[With] these recent fires that have devastated Central California, American Humane stands ready to serve," she said. "As soon as the county calls us, we send our rescue professionals. These are people who are trained in fire rescue for animals.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor's interactive map shows the Central Coast's drought status on Sep 22, 2022.
The U.S. Drought Monitor's interactive map shows the Central Coast's drought status on Sep 22, 2022.

Ganzert said one way people can help ensure safe evacuation of their pets during an emergency is to put together a disaster prep kit including food, water, the pet's medical records and more.

Getting pets microchipped with your cell phone number and address is another safety measure in case you lose your pet during a wildfire, she said.

Lastly, Ganzert urges pet owners to be sensitive to the behavioral changes disasters such as wildfires can cause for pets.

“Your own stress and the uncertainty about what’s happened to your home, the environment around you — they affect your animals. The animals sense these stressors in our lives and they also sense danger, so your pet’s behavior may change after a crisis," she said.

Fire season now lasts year-round in most areas of the Central Coast, which are in extreme drought.

KCBX Reporter Amanda Wernik graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BS in Journalism. Amanda is currently a fellow with the USC Center for Health Journalism, completing a data fellowship that will result in a news feature series to air on KCBX in the winter of 2024.
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