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Special care for evacuated pets

BY SUSAN KIM | Santa Fe, NM | May 14, 2000

Like thousands of other fire evacuees, 9-year-old Grizz doesn't know when he's going home.

He's staying in a hotel, so his surroundings are safe but unfamiliar. And he gets a lift from

people's kind words.

The difference is that Grizz is a Golden Retriever. He and his owner, Dixie Paternoster, have

been out of their home for a week. Thanks to a rule change by the manager of the local Sleep

Inn, people with pets can stay there. Grizz is one of 16 dogs in residence. "We walked in and

asked, and we just lucked out," said Paternoster. "It just happened to work out for me."

For the more than 300 dogs and cats left homeless or separated from their owners after the

Los Alamos fire, it hasn't worked out as well. Health regulations prevent American Red

Cross shelters from accepting pets. While their owners stay at the shelters, they have to

arrange for pet care through the local animal shelter. Or they can stay at a non-Red Cross

shelter. Some local churches, immediately after evacuations, have served as pet-accepting

shelters until the owner made other arrangements. Many owners make whatever choice they

can in order to stay with their pets, even if it means sleeping in the car.

"I'm not sure that a pet-designated shelter would work in my case," said Paternoster. "I'm not

crazy about the idea of taking Grizz into close quarters with other pets he doesn't know. But

initially it sure would have helped."

For the hundreds who have to arrange pet care, the National Animal Disaster Coalition -- and

its members the American Humane Association and American Humane Society -- dispatched

specially trained teams to conduct search-and-rescue for pets.

Then when the local Santa Fe animal shelter brimmed over with pets -- even after adding two 50-by-100-foot tents -- special shelters were set up at two

other points in Santa Fe, one at a kennel that can house 200 pets and another makeshift shelter at the rodeo grounds. Both are operational 24 hours a day.

They also established a Web site, www.santafenet.com, where photos of found pets are posted. "People were turning animals into the firemen and National

Guard," said Sally Wilkins, a volunteer.

At a temporary animal shelter set up on the Santa Fe rodeo grounds, response coordinators are coping with some of the same challenges that impact those

responding to humans. There is a semi-truck full of 48,000 pounds of donated dog food, another colorful mountain of dog food outside, and yet another


But there's no place to put it. The dogs are getting all they need. "We have a desperate need for a forklift, and a pallet, and someplace to store this dog food,"

said Jef Hale, a volunteer coordinator for the Human Society of the United States who traveled from Dallas.

He politely gives out order to volunteers who are walking dogs, sorting donations, and petting cats. The shelter also has ducks, chickens, and rabbits.

Horses, cows, and sheep -- most evacuated by their owners before the official order -- are being housed at volunteers' pastures in Santa Fe.

Meanwhile, some of the smaller pets have already been reunited with their owners. But they're staying at the shelter because their owners can't find a place

to stay with their pets. "Sometimes it's worse if the owner stops by and has to go away again," said volunteer Sarah Von Moritz. "They feel they're being left

all over again."

A 17-year-old high school student, she got special permission from her principal to miss school in order to help.

When animals from both the Los Alamos and Espanola shelters were evacuated to Santa Fe, the local shelter was stretched beyond its capacity. Animal

response organizations placed as many pets as they could into foster homes. Still, on the rodeo grounds, there is every imaginable breed, size, and age of

dog and cat. They are inside buildings, in large tents, in office rooms, and hallways. They sleep, or pace nervously, play happily with volunteers, or bark and

meow constantly. Worried owners roam the aisles hoping to identify their lost pets, and volunteer veterinarians provide basic medical care. Local police

have to direct traffic around the shelter because it is so crowded with pet owners and volunteers.

"We're going to keep them until every last one is given back to its home," said Bob Best, spokesperson for the Humane Society.

Some owners not at home when evacuations were ordered weren't let back in to Los Alamos to get their pets. Frantic owners called police, firemen, or

animal response groups and told them to break into their homes to save their pets. Even as firefighters battled the monumental blaze, some were able to

save individual pets. But their owners may not know. Evacuees already worried about their homes are anguished by the thought of losing their pets as well.

Meanwhile Moritz and other volunteers spend time with one pet after another, hoping for the best. "It's hard to spread your attention evenly," she said.

"Some dogs won'teven move. They just hide away from everything. I've been hand feeding one this whole week."

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