California's recovery

California's recovery

Veterinarians, volunteers tend to pets and livestock plucked from wildfires
Aug 01, 2008

Fighting fires: Forest Service Hot Shots set a backfire near a house to try to contain the Gap fire, officially the top priority fire in the state, on July 6 near Goleta, Calif.
Paradise, Calif. — Thick smoke forced him from his home, but it hasn't kept Dr. Mike Seely from visiting a local evacuation shelter where he checks on hundreds of pets and livestock displaced by the wildfires that burn throughout California.

A veteran veterinarian volunteer during fire season, Seely, 67, says he doesn't feel he has the option not to help.

Displaced, but safe: Evacuated animals at an emergency shelter near Paradise, Calif., wait to return to their homes or be taken to another location.
"I have this affliction for helping people in need. It definitely tugs on my heart when I go home and sit in front of my TV and see a couple of my clients sitting on cots in the rescue shelter," Seely says. "That's the other part of being a veterinarian. It's helping the people feel good and comfortable, because those animals are so important to them. It's pretty simple for me — just get out there and help."

Caring hands: A rescue worker tends to a dog brought to a makeshift shelter near Paradise, Calif.
Seely, a California DVM who practices from his Butte Mobile Veterinary Practice, was living in a trailer miles from home with his wife and children throughout much of the fire. He was one of the many forced from his home as more than 837,000 acres across the state burned. The official fire season hasn't even started, but Seely says this is the third fire already this year to hit Paradise — a rural town that has been anything but lately.

In Butte County, Seely's "turf," the amount of land affected by the fires from July 1 to July 14, went from about 17,000 acres to 53,000 acres. The fires started to finally die down July 13, and Paradise officials expected to start welcoming back residents. Damage is estimated at $53.3 million in Butte County alone, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. One death and 26 injuries were reported in Butte, and dozens of homes burned, according to the state, but no veterinary practices were affected, mainly because the fires primarily stuck rural areas.

Seely assists one of the many animal-rescue groups that have taken action in California in the absence of organized veterinary medical-assistance teams (VMAT). The North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG) in Chico was founded by firefighter John Maretti after a few people died in a fire two years ago because they wouldn't evacuate without their animals and there was nowhere to take them. He sometimes calls veterinarians to assist the group's volunteer workers, but Maretti says he hasn't had to lately.

"For these last two incidents, I haven't had to call anybody, because they've been calling me," he says.

In addition to Seely, Maretti says another local veterinarian and students and staff from the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine have been stopping by the group's emergency shelter at Spring Valley School to help care for evacuated animals.

In fast-moving fires like the first one of the year a few weeks ago, a lot of livestock can be lost, Maretti says. The second fire resulted in some burnt paws but very few deaths; this fire is very slow-moving and has resulted in no fatalities, he says.