Sherry Moland spent part of Wednesday afternoon at Iron Oak Canyon Ranch in Spring Valley with her 8-year-old adoptive horse, Whisper, tending to the horse’s physical and emotional needs.
As Moland applied ointment to the horse’s hooves, stroked her mane and fed her some fresh hay in the hazy sunshine on Campo Road, she said her house wasn’t currently in the fire zone but she wouldn’t take any chances. She remembered well walking through the Harris fire in 2007, just months after moving into her home in Campo.
She said Monday she called the San Diego Humane Society for a pickup and the San Diego County Department of Animal Services picked up Whisper and took her to safety.
The Humane Society’s emergency response team worked with Animal Services on the ground, evacuating animals and keeping them safe during the Valley fire. The partnership ensures that there is coordinated assistance to those in need and that the resources of both groups are used efficiently.
Although Moland’s home has been spared so far, she said she knows very well how the wind can change and send embers to her.
“We are on standby for evacuation,” Moland said. “We live in a fire zone, this will happen. Just be prepared.”
Whisper is one of more than 50 animals currently housed at Iron Oak Canyon Ranch, brought in by residents who were evacuated during the fire or, like Moland, are preparing for worst-case scenarios. She said if nothing changes at the fire, she plans to keep Whisper there through Saturday or Sunday.
Whisper is in good company with several other horses, more than two dozen alpacas, some goats, chickens and turkeys. The private boarding ranch, formerly known as Bright Valley Farms, lends its barrel racing arena to the San Diego Humane Society, which works with Animal Services to provide shelter, food and water for the animals in their care.
Animal Services director Kelly Campbell said between the groups they are caring for more than 300 animals — from horses to dogs to cats — in temporary shelters in Lakeside at Rodeo Arena and at El Capitan High, at the helm of the County Shelter in Bonita and at the Iron Oak Canyon site.
Campbell said if reports from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection over the next few nights show the fire is being contained, and it is safe to do so, the sites will be closed and people will be able to take their animals home.
Animal Services and the Humane Society are working together not only to help animals in their care, but also to go behind the fire lines to care for animals as part of Shelter in Place. Their dispatch teams share a Google document that records the addresses affected by the fire and the individual needs of the animals that were not evacuated.
“Any animal stuck on the property [that] Owners can’t get there or they can’t go and come back and they’re behind fire lines, they go in and take care of the animals,” said John Peaveler, administrative lieutenant for the San Diego Humane Society of Emergency Services.
With power still off and some homeowners’ pumps dependent on the water supply, the Humane Society’s truckloads of water were a welcome sight for those in the fire zone who were not evacuated.
Sometimes it’s just the little things that make a big difference. On Wednesday, a pet turtle had rolled onto its back in its cage and a member of the Humane Society team was able to turn it back over.
The COVID-19 health emergency has raised some issues that have not been a problem with other fires over the years. While the Spring Valley ranch allows people to visit and mingle with their animals “as long as they don’t sleep here,” Peaveler said, the county’s rules are different.
The Humane Society provides staff for the rodeo arena but is under county oversight. Evacuees dropping off horses at the Lakeside compound are not allowed to stay with the animals due to COVID-19.
While there is hope that the fire will be contained, the groups are telling people to contact Animal Services at (619) 236-2341 if they are in immediate fire danger and need immediate help with their animals.
For those looking to move their animals to safe areas, the Bonita Animal Shelter is located at 5821 Sweetwater Road. Iron Oak Canyon Ranch is located at 12310 Campo Road in Spring Valley; the Rodeo Arena is located at 12584 Mapleview St. in Lakeside. Those with smaller pets such as dogs and cats can also bring them to El Capitan High at 10410 Ashwood St. in Lakeside.
The San Diego Humane Society said it also offers pet food and supplies on the Humane Society campus Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The campuses are located at 5500 Gaines St. in San Diego, 3500 Burnet Drive in Escondido and 2905 San Luis Rey Drive in Oceanside.