November 8, 2018 seemed like any other day at Marin Humane. Representatives from different departments gathered in the morning to share brief updates and information about upcoming events with their colleagues.

Then the alerts started to come in: fire had broken out in Butte County. No one could have predicted the extent of the devastation and tragic loss of life caused by what would be the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. Thanks to decades of experience and training, Marin Humane is recognized as an official emergency resource. Personnel might be requested by authorities to provide expert guidance and assistance during disasters that involve animals. When the Tubbs Fire devastated our neighbors in Sonoma and Napa County in 2017, we converted Marin Humane into a temporary pet evacuation center and sent Animal Services Officers in to the devastated region.

In anticipation of requests for assistance, Marin Humane CEO Nancy McKenney and Captain Cindy Machado immediately reached out to Butte County authorities and assembled a team to be on standby for deployment.

I was one of the staff members deployed to Butte County to provide animal care services to displaced pets housed at a hastily-constructed animal shelter at the Chico Municipal Airport. When I returned, people had a lot of questions for me so I thought I’d share my responses:

Q. Was this your first deployment? What was it like?
A. I had assisted with larger-scale animal rescues before, but I’d never been deployed to a disaster zone. Witnessing the devastation first-hand is something you never forget. It seems daunting at first, but you soon realize that everyone present has disrupted their regular lives to assist others and is doing the best they can to help. I felt very grateful and humbled to be a part of that.

Q. How did the animals end up at the airport?
A. Some animals were rescued from the fire zone or were dropped off by their guardians who were evacuated. Every so often, lost pets would be reunited with their family and the joy was palpable and contagious! Those moments were definitely the highlights of our exhausting and long days.

Q. How else did Marin Humane help those affected by this tragedy?
A. We transferred in adoption animals from the shelters around the affected region to help them make room for the pets of fire evacuees and sent much-needed supplies and teams of staff members to help with the rescue and care efforts. We also created a special fund dedicated to disaster relief and were humbled by the incredible generosity from the community—we simply couldn’t do this kind of work without the financial help from our supporters. Every dollar donated to this fund went directly to disaster relief in the affected areas and will continue to help with long-term recovery.

Having your own disaster plan for your beloved pets can make all the difference! Be sure to:

IDENTIFY YOUR PET Keep your license current, make sure that a collar with identification tags is worn at all times, and consider getting a microchip for your pet (they’re free for cats at Marin Humane!).

CRATE TRAIN This will help you safely transport your pet to safety in times of emergency.

DEVELOP A NEIGHBORHOOD PLAN Get to know your neighbors, and select a neighborhood coordinator who will be ready to assist.

PREPARE A PET DISASTER KIT Include a crate or carrier, identification tags, leashes, bowls, litter and litter boxes, food and water supplies, emergency phone numbers, and a first aid kit.