The unrelenting Santa Ana winds that had primed and stoked the destructive blazes like the Woolsey Fire roaring through the San Fernando Valley have maintained a gusty presence at Pierce College in Winnetka this week.
But on this day — Nov. 13 — there was also a quiet permeating throughout the grounds although it was hard to discern if it was relief or numbness, especially for the displaced animal population being housed there.
The college (and Hansen Dam) are among the seven temporary evacuation sites set up by the LA county Animal Care and Control for fire victims to bring in evacuated pets or animals that were found in the path of the numerous blazes that seemingly just kept popping up on an already charred landscape.
Since the Woolsey Fire first broke out on Nov. 8, it had burned through almost 100,000 acres from Malibu to Agoura Hills, and was still less than 50 percent contained as of Wednesday morning, Nov. 14.
Allison Cardona of the Los Angeles county Animal Care and Control, which has been on the Pierce College Equestrian Center near Parking Lot 9 on campus since Nov. 9, said the control officials have been steadily fielding calls to help evacuate animals since the fire began.
“At the height of the shelter operation, we had 815 animals,” Cardona said Tuesday, adding that the remaining population was still near 600. “The majority were horses. This is a community that loves its horses and livestock. There are a lot of ranches.”
It’s been more than horses, of which there were still 153 being housed at Pierce. The evacuation effort included 20 mini-horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, a tortoise, five dogs and 11 cats. There were also a pair of recovering alpacas that had visible burn marks on their fur. One also had visible burns on its neck.
Plenty of the actual pet owners were still unknown to Animal Control officials. But all the animals had been placed in cages or barns, and were being fed and watered regularly. Those animals that were able to move around comfortably were also given periods of exercise.
“This has certainly been stressful [for the animals],” Cardona said. “Anything that can harm a person can harm an animal. Besides the direct fires, there’s smoke inhalation and not being in their own environment. We’re trying to provide as much comfort as possible. But it’s a stressful time; I think they can sense it.”
Cardona also pointed out how residents and others have pitched in with food supplies, volunteering to help bring in needy animals to the shelters for safety, or providing any needed medical treatment.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “People have come in with truckloads [of food]. People from all over have been sending in donations, or coming here with hay and other supplies. We also have a foundation, called the Animal Care Foundation, that people can donate to online.
“We’ve had a lot of volunteers and staff working 24/7. The community has also been generous in feeding us and providing us supplies as well.”
Two volunteers — Tina Reddington and Hanna Juarez — were seen exercising a pair of pit bulls in one of the equestrian workout areas.
“It’s been terrific to be able to help where we can,” Reddington said. “We want the people who bring their animals here to know they will be taken care of.”
Providing free medical care for the displaced animals at Pierce was the Veterinary Angels Medical Center, which is based in Agoura Hills.
Medical center personnel and the animals in their care needed to be evacuated at 2 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 9. “We moved about 100 animals in two hours,” noted Darlene Geekie, owner and executive director of Veterinary Angels.
Although those animals have been returned to the Agoura Hills facility, medical staff have remained at the college since Nov. 10, working from trailers and tents supplied by the American Red Cross.
“We’re now working in conjunction with the county Animal Control,” Geekie said. “We contacted them and said we could put up a whole facility here to collectively help with the Red Cross effort.”
For example, Geekie said, an evacuated resident might have a pet needing treatment for a new injury or one prior to the fire, but had not gotten to a vet’s office. Now they can get treated for free — full veterinary medical care — to “give them some piece of mind, not allow them to think about what’s going on out there.”
She said the offer for free service was available to any pet owner in an evacuation zone. They are also providing gift cards to pet owners to get supplies for their animals, and personal items for themselves.
“And we will continue to do that as long as we need to, both at the Agoura facility which is open, and here [at Pierce],” Geekie said. “As long as the need is here, we will keep funding it. We don’t want to just send someone off with a dog bed that was donated here. We like to also give them some [personal] funds to help.”
Cardona said the animal shelters would remain open as long as mandatory evacuations were in place.
“This is our community, too,” Cardona said. “We just had a call this morning from someone who had to leave their horse behind and they weren’t sure if it was okay. One of our officers went out and the horse was still there. He had made it through the fire. So we brought him here.”
If you would like to donate to the Animal Care Foundation, visit: lacountyanimals.org.