Watching reports of the disastrous Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa, California (our old hometown), last week, our first thoughts were for the people and their homes. Then I began to wonder about the pets, livestock, and wildlife of the area.
My sister went to bed unsuspecting, then a few hours later woke with a neighbor pounding on her door and yelling “fire.” The neighbor later told her they had pounded and yelled a long time. Her dog’s barking finally woke her. She hadn’t heard the police earlier who drove through the neighborhood with a bull horn telling everyone to get out now!
I thank God her dog barked and woke her up.
A friend was living alone in a house on the edge of the city. From her back bedroom, she didn’t hear the first responders ring her doorbell, and they assumed no one was home. What finally woke her was an annoying sound of scratching on the wood siding of the house outside her bedroom. She got up and looked out the window and saw racoons desperately trying to find shelter to get away from … fire! Fire just outside! The barn had already burned. She got out just in time but lost everything.
Did God encourage those raccoons to scratch there and wake her up?
Another friend lived high on a mountain road above Santa Rosa on a ranch where my son used to go exploring with friends when he was a boy. From his high vantage point this friend could see the fire moving closer. He chose to stay up there, alone, and worked hard through the night and day to save his home and some nearby structures as well. As he worked at the edge of the fire in the darkness, he says he felt wild animals brushing against him as they fled the burning areas. But he didn’t stop and neither did they.
The Forestry Department urged people, who lived near, but not in, the wildfire areas, to bring their domestic animals indoors at night and let the wild ones pass through. “Please put out buckets of water for them—they are scared, exhausted, and have also lost their homes—they need to refuel,” came the request.
Many people had to flee within minutes and had no time to find their cats. One woman said she was surprised that “leaving my cat was almost the thing that hit me the hardest.”
Some dogs panicked and ran and their owners had to evacuate and flee the flames without them. One report said someone tried to get their horses into a trailer but the frightened horses refused; so the people had to leave their horses.
Online, evacuees posted such announcements as: “We are looking for two donkeys that we had to leave. Do you know their whereabouts?” “Lost Dog: While her family was evacuating, she jumped out of their truck. They love this dog so much and are devastated.” “54 horses in dire need of transportation off a ranch.” “Cat found hiding under car. Whiskers burnt but she’s okay.” “Our husky slipped out of her collar while we were evacuating and ran off. Heartbroken.”
The re-uniting of people and animals brought mutual comfort and joy.
One person had left buckets of water out for the deer and birds that came by her front yard. When she was allowed to return briefly to her home she found a dozen turkey vultures and other birds resting on her lawn together. They didn’t even move when she went up to her door. They looked exhausted, she said.
All this reminds me of the stories of animals left behind in World War II Europe when Holocaust victims were forced from their homes. Jewish people had to leave behind beloved family pets to fend for themselves in hostile and harsh environments. Susan Bulanda collected many of the stories from men and women who were children during the Holocaust. The stories are told in the book Faithful Friends.
They tell how their dogs and cats suffered also, and how they provided comfort and courage, an emotional connection to happier times, and the encouragement to never give up hope.