While much of the region has marked this summer’s fire season in terms of acreage burned, hazardous air quality days or headlines about devastating loss, an unsung army of volunteers has focused on trailer miles hauled, feed bags emptied and the sort of happy endings that buck and wag.
Working behind the scenes much like those digging fire lines or serving hot meals, good Samaritans from around the region have rescued countless dogs, cats, horses and other hooved and feathered companions from areas under evacuation due to more than a dozen wildfires.
Often within moments of flames reaching a rural property, volunteers from organized groups — or sometimes individuals hoping to lend a hand — show up to haul, feed, wrangle or walk livestock and companion animals.
Linda Bacon, founder and director of the all-volunteer Southern Oregon Emergency Aid, said it’s not uncommon to get a call at 2 a.m. from someone desperate to evacuate dozens of animals, which often have never seen the inside of livestock trailer before.
Bacon’s group, which she began in 2014 and has grown from a dozen volunteers to some 17 geographical groups with 400 active members, networks via cellphone and social media and can easily haul 300 animals in a few hours time.
Between this year’s list of fires, from Klondike and Taylor Creek to Klamathon and Carr, Bacon said sleepless nights have been common as her complex network of volunteers rescue animals from harm’s way.
“Sometimes we have volunteers moving animals from multiple fires at once. We have volunteers who haul the animals and some who help with feeding and watering or even walking the animals that have been evacuated. Our last animals from the Taylor fire are going home tomorrow,” Bacon said last week.
More often than not, rescue tales come with a dash of humor.
“This year we had an emu we had to evacuate. He was in his pen with helicopters flying overhead and fire equipment screaming past him. We spent an hour and a half trying to catch this bird who had no idea what was going on other than he was absolutely sure he was not going to be caught,” said Bacon.
“When they finally caught him — and by then it’s 2 a.m. — this darn thing wouldn’t get out of the trailer!” she added.
“We had another time in Prospect, where a lady called and said she had 20 goats she needed to have evacuated. This was at about 9 o’clock at night. At first, she wanted to wait until morning, but they were already at a level 2 evacuation. We were out there in the dark herding these goats. It turned out she didn’t have 20 goats. She had 37. And she had 14 to 15 barn cats, peacocks and dogs.”
Medford resident Donna Jones, an avid volunteer and foster care provider for Jackson County Animal Services, drove toward the Klamathon fire when she heard of shelters being set up for cats and dogs.
Initially planning to deliver needed supplies, she helped provide medical treatment for several cats at an evacuation site and eventually returned home with a mother cat and her litter of 2-week-old kittens.
“The idea was just to go and to help wherever it was needed. It was a whole lot of tragedy, and the animals experience that, too. People around them are panicking. There are new smells. Some of them have injuries then the stress of relocating or if they can’t be reunited with their owners,” Jones said.
“Everyone can help in some way.”
R&R Pet Resort manager Alicia Anderson said the Talent facility near Interstate 5 opened its doors several times this summer.
“It started with the Hornbrook fire, then the Carr fire happened. We got some from the Taylor Creek fire. I think we’ve had about 30 or so extra dogs at different periods all summer long,” Anderson said.
“It’s pretty sad. These people come to us and their cars are packed with everything they own, bless their hearts. I can’t even imagine the anxiety, and then they have to drop off their animals, just so they can find a place to stay. The poor animals feed off their owners’ anxiety and they know something is wrong we’ve just tried to do what we can to help with a very small part of it.”
On Friday, as the Ramsey Canyon fire threatened rural homes and properties, Wimer resident Debbie Smith took to social media offering to trailer or house animals affected by evacuation orders.
Earlier this summer, when the Klamathon fire burned toward the R Ranch near the Oregon-California border, Smith was one of three dozen volunteers who helped wrangle terrified horses as helicopters dropped retardant and water on their burning ranch.
“It was quite a scene. These horses were traumatized, burned, hurt, their eyeballs were like bowling balls they were so scared. Planes were flying over them. We had a limited amount of time to get them in the trailers,” Smith said. Once they were loaded, Smith helped coordinate boarding for 56 of the animals — a dozen horses at her own property, the rest at a nearby field.
“The owner said yes right away. He said, ‘I need it mowed anyway.’ We ended up not even needing to feed them, we just had to figure out water troughs. Neighbors were buying big bags of carrots to feed them. Everyone just wanted to help,” she said.
“Just wanting to help,” Smith noted, is a common thread in myriad stories about animals being helped on social media, during fire season or otherwise.
“You can find a lot of negative things about your community, but you can also find a lot of positive if you just look for it,” Smith said.
“We live in a rural community, so maybe it’s more common, but I think it’s just the way it’s supposed to be — neighbors helping neighbors.”
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.