Some Northern Californians who feared the worst for their pets in the wake of this month’s deadly wildfires are getting some welcome good news in recent days: Their animals survived.
Animal shelters and veterinary offices have been posting photos and videos of numerous heartwarming reunions between pet owners and the animals they feared were lost forever.
Many of those reunions involve cats. That’s because when people are fleeing at a moment’s notice, cats are typically more difficult to wrangle than dogs.
“It’s harder to find cats in that kind of stressful situation,” Karen Blount, a veterinarian at Windsor Animal Hospital in Santa Rosa, told HuffPost. “More often than not, they bolt.”
Many people tried their hardest to take their pets with them, but became separated at the last minute.
Jennifer Trabucco told HuffPost that she and her husband noticed smoke pouring into their Santa Rosa home at around 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 9.
“We only had about seven minutes to get out of our house,” she said.
Her husband grabbed their three kids and dog while she found and scooped up their two cats, Jake and Luke, in her arms.
“Right as I got outside, [the cats] kind of panicked,” she said. “Luke squirmed out of my arms and I was screaming ‘Oh my God, no!’”
The two cats tore off in different directions — Jake went back into the house while Luke disappeared outside into the night. She ran back in and got Jake, but with flames bearing down and children and other pets in tow, she had to make the heartbreaking decision not to search for Luke.
“It was so smoky that my husband lost sight of our road,” she said. “My three kids in the backseat, and they were crying because our cat got left behind. I was crying.”
But Luke’s story has a happy ending. Days later, the family got a call from Sonoma Humane Society. Luke was injured, but alive. His microchip — a tiny implanted device that allows vets and shelters obtain an owner’s contact information — helped rescue workers find Trabucco.
Trabucco was so happy, she burst into tears. Luke’s whiskers and ears were singed and all four paws were burnt, but he’s recovering and is clearly happy to be back with his family.
“He’s been glued to us and purring,” Trabucco said. “All he wants is to be held.”
Bizarrely, this is the second fire Luke and Jake have survived. Trabucco adopted both as kittens after a fire destroyed the patch of trees and grass where a feral mother had given birth to them.
Other reunion stories shared on social media include a woman whose cat broke out of her carrier during an evacuation, and another whose cats leapt out of the car when she rolled the windows down only slightly for ventilation.
The Sonoma Humane Society told HuffPost that more than 550 domestic animals are still reported missing. And dozens of animals have been found and treated for injuries, but their owners have not yet been located.
Sonoma Humane Society, Sonoma County Animal Services, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Marin Humane Society are among many groups accepting donations online for animals affected by the fires. Blount said Windsor Animal Hospital is also accepting donations for a fund to help cash-strapped pet owners pay their veterinary bills in the wake of fires. Those donations can be made in person or over the phone.
The Sacramento Bee has a comprehensive list of other organizations — both for animals and humans — in need of donations and volunteers in the wake of the fires.
If you have lost or found a pet within Sonoma County, you can use a centralized online database that is shared between all shelters and rescue groups within the county.