By Nicole Forsyth, RedRover President and CEO
I had the rare opportunity to join staff and volunteers on our deployment to help the pets displaced by the recent Wall Fire in Oroville, CA. Putting aside my regular leadership role, I fell to the bottom of the Incident Command chain and got my hands dirty. I first worked alongside Minhhan, RedRover’s Program Assistant, to care for about a dozen chickens, making sure their cages were clean and they had plenty of food and water. I love chickens, so I was right at home, and it was very rewarding to see the chickens calm down and nap after the cage cleaning and lots of soft sweet talk.
We worked with Butte County, NVDAG and IFAW, and I was impressed with how smooth the operations ran. Once the chickens were resting, Minhhan and I moved over to the dogs. Here the dogs showed a wide mix of emotional responses and behaviors. Some were happy to see us, no matter who we were, and they were excited for everything we had to offer. Others were stressed and nervous and likely very confused about why they were there and where their families were. I was especially drawn to want to help those who seemed the most scared.
Most of the animals were there because their families had to evacuate and had nowhere else to bring their pets. A few were strays found in the search and rescue operation run by IFAW. One small terrier mix had been found at the site of a home that had been completely burned to the ground, so it seemed a miracle this small dog escaped with no injuries. When I took him for a walk all he wanted to do was sit on my lap. I wondered what he’d been through and if he’d reconnect with his family again.
I was amazed to see how in this emergency animal shelter, which by all accounts should be very chaotic, the dogs quieted down enough to have nap time. With lots of volunteer power, the cleaning, feeding and walking was efficient and the dogs picked up on this and adjusted to their routine quickly. We dimmed the lights, and they all grew quiet for a few hours.
In the afternoon, we began another round of walks, and the team celebrated small victories together, like getting one stressed dog to finally poop. Yay! By the afternoon some people were able to return to their homes. Seeing the relief and gratitude from the people who came to pick up their pets, especially when they had lost their homes, was amazing and heart-wrenching at the same time. Here they had lost their home and most of their belongings, but they beamed when they were reunited with their pets again. And watching the dogs who we’d seen so nervous come to life again with wiggles and tail wagging made me proud all over again that organizations like RedRover and the compassionate people from various other organizations have such immense capacity for kindness and generosity.
During the afternoon dog walking, we discovered a few of the dogs knew each other, and we began walking them together. We also rearranged kennels once some of the dogs had been picked up, so these dogs could be near each other, and removed the cardboard that is typically used to reduce the stress of being next to an unfamiliar dog. Paying attention enough to notice these things - and then responding with little acts of empathy and comfort - are what the RedRover Responders are known for.
It seemed like whenever we sat down to take a break, another family would drive up to pick up their pets, and we’d leap to our feet to get the chance to see these animals reunited with their families.
It was important for me to get away from my desk and be reminded of what it is we ask our staff and volunteers do every time there is an emergency like the Wall Fire... and inspiring to experience the RedRover Responders teamwork, compassion and dedication firsthand.