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Helping people and pets affected by the West Coast’s wildfires

Anytime that people are impacted by natural disasters, or tragedy and hardship of any kind, their pets are affected, too. While the animals in our lives are incredible sources of comfort during challenges we’ve faced, like the pandemic, they can also be a major source of anxiety if we feel that we can’t keep them and ourselves safe. We saw this during and after events like hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, and we’re seeing it amplified now as an unprecedented number of wildfires sweep across the West Coast.

The nature, scale and impact of the wildfires burning from northern Washington state clear down the coast through Oregon to San Diego, and also touching states like Colorado, Idaho and Utah, pose unique challenges for efforts to support people and animals in those areas. With challenges ranging from dangerous air quality to the decentralized nature of the events, effective emergency response requires a combination of providing real-time information updates and connecting different localized needs, which change quickly from one moment to the next, with the right resources.

The reality is that, regardless of what any of us might see highlighted in the national news, disasters like the current onslaught of fires start and end locally. So, finding ways to support individual communities, as well as help them be as prepared as they can be for future events (both expected and unexpected), alongside any national or large-scale efforts is the only sustainable emergency response solution.

Helping our local animal shelters do things like craft their own community-based emergency response plans and strengthen local foster and volunteer networks can make a tremendous difference at critical times. For example, caring for homeless dogs and cats through foster programs helps keep shelters well under capacity and able to quickly house displaced pets and other animals during emergency situations.

Another critical component is ensuring that communications infrastructure is in place ahead of time so that available help can be efficiently matched with local needs. Red Rover has been doing a superb job of tracking events regionally and posting the latest information and resources for people with pets, including the locations of emergency parking and boarding locations for animals of all types and sizes.

Animal Balance has already sent the first of what is expected to be several truckloads of requested supplies to a drop-off station at Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene, Oregon. San Diego Humane Society created a home-to-home community pet housing system through which community members in need of temporary housing for their pets can connect directly with people offering to house pets in their homes.

Many national organizations like Best Friends are tracking requests for help in specific regions and looking for opportunities to connect those in need with those offering the kind of support needed. That can include anything from air purifiers and ATVs to lodging for first responders and other trained emergency response workers. Fortunately, Best Friends’ lifesaving centers in Los Angeles are safe and have not been directly affected by any of the fires. But staff have already been putting together emergency preparedness kits in case of an evacuation.

With so many major individual events happening at once, and with more expected, now is a great time to see what the options are for helping those in your region and to ensure that your own family and pets are prepared by signing up for local alerts in your jurisdiction and making sure you have your own emergency plan and kit ready.

Thank you to every individual, organization and first responder who are saving lives and offering a helping hand to the people and pets nationwide affected by these unprecedented events.

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Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society Julie Castle
CEO
Best Friends Animal Society