Wallow Fire: Group rallies to save thousands of displaced animals

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As the largest wildfire in Arizona's history, the Wallow Fire forced evacuations in Alpine, Eager, Greer, Nutrioso, and Springerville.  Thousands of people, pets, and wild animals have been displaced from their homes.

A few days after the fire started, a group of animal lovers gathered for a meeting that had been planned long before the Wallow Fire's first spark.  The group was meeting at the Villa La Paws pet resort in Phoenix to plan a fundraising event for homeless animals.

As the meeting was wrapping up, Bari Mears, founder and president of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition (PACC911) asked for a minute to address the group.  Her words set off a stunning effort to assist the animals displaced by the Wallow Fire. 

PACC911 brings together more than 100 animal welfare organizations in Arizona, creating whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts opportunities to work together for the benefit of animals. 

It's difficult to detail the chronology here because everything seems to have happened at once. Much of it coordinated by Tia Sylvis, PACC911's volunteer coordinator.

Before the group left the meeting room that evening, Villa La Paws had volunteered its two Phoenix facilities as staging areas to collect supplies and equipment to be sent "up the mountain."

Sherry Butler, president of Sherry Butler Communications, put out an immediate media blitz.  Live interviews began the very next morning on all the major TV stations. 

The message:  the near-desperate need for supplies and medications for the animals that were pouring into the temporary shelters on the fringe of the fire-ravaged area. Things you wouldn't normally think of, like medication for the eyes of animals that had come out of the thick smoke that was suffocating the area.

How many animals were being sheltered?  By Saturday evening, there were 75 dogs and 30 cats in an Arizona Humane Society shelter in Show Low.  The fairgrounds shelter in St. Johns (the territory of Round Valley Animal Rescue) was housing about 100 cats and 100 dogs.  Plus another 60 dogs and cats offsite in a house.

Also at the fairgrounds or offsite at nearby ranches there were 300-plus horses, 250 goats and about 150 rabbits, pigs, emus, ostriches, alpacas, etc.  Dr. Laura Harris, a Phoenix equine veterinarian, spent the weekend ministering to that group.

If you're keeping score, that's more than a thousand animals displaced by the fire and needing . . . well, everything.

By Saturday morning, the Villa La Paws staging sites were humming.  A steady stream of generous animal lovers were dropping off items as diverse as vaccines, large hard-shell crates, Clorox bleach wipes, stacks of newspapers, dog food, cat food, rabbit food, hay and more hay, cat litter, disposable litter boxes, food dishes, trash bags, stand-up floor fans, collars and leashes.  St. Mary's Food Bank (the cradle of the food bank movement in America) donated 3,000 pounds of animal food.

People kept showing up with vehicles to transport all that stuff to the shelter areas.  That transport generosity was capped off when Tim Dietz, owner of Unique Heavy Recovery, showed up with one of his 18-wheelers.  By Saturday evening, it was loaded and on its way.

Then, by late Saturday, word came that -- at least for the moment -- the need had been met.

Well done, guys!  This blog is read by dog sports people all over America, and the racket you hear is the sound of many hands clapping.


For more information on how you can help animals displaced by Arizona's wildfires, please visit the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition

This story was adapted from a blog post by noted Arizona dog trainer Willard Bailey