Reflections on the Thomas Fire

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Today is a time for reflection and lessons learned as we observe the one year anniversary of the Thomas Fire that burned through Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties and at one point encircled the Ojai Valley where the Humane Society of Ventura County’s 4.4-acre facility is located. Our staff and volunteers remember well when we first received the news that a fire had broken out in the Upper Ojai/Santa Paula area, changing our lives and the lives of our community forever. That night the Shelter immediately opened its doors 24/7 to those being affected by the fast-moving fire and in the first 48 hours after the flames ignited, the shelter nearly quadrupled its residents. At the peak of the disaster, the shelter was home to nearly 400 animals, including the 81 animals already in our care. Besides the numerous cats and dogs that came in, it was necessary for the shelter to improvise to accommodate the hundreds of other animals in peril including alpacas, donkeys, goats, chickens, and even snakes. Each and every animal that was brought to the Humane Society of Ventura County for safekeeping brought with it a story of hope and survival. These animals were in our care because in one way or another their lives and the lives of their families were threatened or in danger. For weeks the shelter ran at capacity and many animals remained in the shelter’s care well into the new year, with the last evacuee animal going home this past June.

Not only did the public’s support make it possible for the shelter to protect those in danger’s way during the Thomas Fire but it also made it possible for us to be better equipped for future catastrophes. This past year was spent recuperating from the toll the Thomas Fire took upon the Shelter and better preparing to protect those vulnerable to future natural and man-made disasters. Never did we expect the next event to happen so soon, but it did, and we were ready. The Hill and Woolsey fires that erupted in early November tore through Ventura and Los Angeles Counties with as much speed and voracity as the Thomas Fire. With your help, the Humane Society of Ventura County was able to offer refuge for scores of families who needed a sanctuary to keep their animals safe from the punishing flames. Your support made it possible for us to keep our doors open 24/7 for all those who came, never once turning away those in need. Our equine rescue team, newly equipped with a horse trailer made possible by a grant from GlobalGiving, headed out to the field that night heeding the call for those families needing assistance evacuating their animals. With the help of a cadre of volunteers, the shelter took in hundreds of animals, placing them under our care for as long as the families needed at no charge, all the while continuing to care for the many animals that already called the shelter home.

None of this would have been possible without the help and encouragement from our community. The shelter has served the people and animals of Ventura County for over 86 years making Ventura County not only our home but its residents our family. Our hearts go out to all those affected by the challenges to our community in the past year, we know it hasn't been easy. We would like to take this moment to thank everyone who believed in us and supported our work whether it was through volunteering your time, contributing supplies, financial donations, or just sharing our stories. We are inspired by your passion to improve the lives of animals in need and are committed to serving our community whenever the circumstance arise. Thank you for standing with us.

For the full gallery of photos from the Thomas Fire please visit our FACEBOOK PAGE.

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