The Unseen Wildfire Victims: Lost, Injured Pets - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

05/17/07

The Unseen Wildfire Victims: Lost, Injured Pets

The shelter found this hound dog with singed fur and burned paws. The shelter found this hound dog with singed fur and burned paws.
A Weimaraner who has been at the shelter since the fires started. A Weimaraner who has been at the shelter since the fires started.
The two brother pups on the left came to the shelter because of the fires, but all of these puppies are up for adoption. The two brother pups on the left came to the shelter because of the fires, but all of these puppies are up for adoption.
Shelter employee Mary Walden shows us a room with ceiling high donations of pet food. Shelter employee Mary Walden shows us a room with ceiling high donations of pet food.
Another "fire" dog who will soon be available for adoption. Another "fire" dog who will soon be available for adoption.
If you'd like to help:
The Okefenokee Humane Society is located at 1501 Blackwell Street, Waycross, Georgia. You can contact the shelter by calling 912.283.4214 for more information.

 Click here for shelter website

Eight black puppies press their noses through a chain link fence at the Okefenokee Humane Society in Waycross. Found roaming the streets with their mother, they are just some of the unseen victims of the Ware County wildfires.

It's been a busy few weeks for Mary Walden. She's one of six employees at the shelter, and since the fires first began in April, dogs and cats have been flooding in.

"At any given time, we usually have about 65 dogs of our own and the last time I counted we were up to 107 dogs, so it's quite a bit more than what we usually have," she told us.

Thousands of acres have burned and residents have evacuated their homes as a result of the largest wildfire the State of Georgia has ever seen. But in the smoke and the flames and the confusion, dozens of pets have been displaced.

"A lot of people that actually lost their homes, that's probably the first thing on their minds, not so much their animals," said Walden. "So I'm sure there's a lot of animals still roaming around from the fire and we probably will come upon them."

The Okefenokee Humane Society has been finding pets all over the area, most without identification and some with burns and injuries from the fires.

"These guys are basically all from the fire," Walden said, pointing to a line of four outdoor runs. Due to the amount of animals coming into the shelter, temporary runs have been built outside to house the extra dogs.

"And this is the little singed boy, he's an old boy," she said, taking us to another run where an old brown and white hound dog was sleeping in a dirt hole.

"When he first came in he was missing a lot more hair, he wasn't walking, the pads of his feet were singed," Walden explained, showing us spots on his head where the fur is starting to grow back. "He had several spots where the hair was just singed off."

Limited resources
Because of its size, the shelter has limited medical resources. Walden explained that, while the shelter is able to administer medication and ointments to help injured animals heal, "We don't have the proper pain control for wounds and for things like this."

And the hound dog is just one of many pets that were displaced from their homes and, in some cases, abandoned by their owners in the wake of fire.

Pets like a large Weimaraner living in one of the outdoor runs. "This is a pure bred Weimaraner," said Walden. "You know it's somebody's dog, and he's been here since the fire very first started, probably the night the fire started. We got him just running lose and I'm sure he belongs to someone, but no one's come looking for him or called."

Some of the dogs at the shelter have been reclaimed by their owners, like the mother dog found wandering with her puppies, who are now all up for adoption. But many, like the Weimaraner, came in without collars or tags.

"It's hard because he is a very sweet dog and we don't know his name, we don't know where he came from," said Walden.

Eventually he, like most of the others, will be put up for adoption. But for now, the shelter is giving their owners a chance to find and claim their pets. And while the shelter hasn't set a specific waiting period, they know the longer they wait to put these pets up for adoption, the harder it will be to find them new homes.

And unfortunately, they can't house animals forever. Eventually some of the unclaimed or unadopted animals may have to be euthanized.

Preparing for disaster
Many shelters like the Okefenokee Humane Society will board dogs and cats for pet owners until they can return home in an emergency, and some people did take advantage of the service. But more than half of the animals found by the shelter in fire areas were lost or apparently let lose by their owners. Weeks later, most aren't being claimed.

"It's very sad, because if it was my dog, I'd be at a loss," said Walden. "I'd be looking all over for them."

It is difficult to prepare for certain disasters, but pet owners can help prevent the loss of animals by having the resources and plans in place in case of a sudden emergency.

"To have an animal in the first place is a very big responsibility," said Walden. "And the way I look at it as an animal lover, is they're like my children and I wouldn't just leave my children somewhere."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a list of steps every pet owner should know when creating a proper pet contingency plan.

The number one rule, never leave your pets behind. Many people think dogs and cats can fend for themselves if left alone, but that's simply not the case. Pets, who are used to being fed and taken care of, often have difficulty finding food on their own. You can view the entire FEMA pet emergency plan here:

http://www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/animals.shtm


Ways to help
In the meantime, the Okefenokee Humane Society is doing everything it can to keep these pets happy and healthy, but it can't do it alone. The shelter relies entirely on donations and needs the public's help to keep its operations running.

Coastal Pet Rescue will be collecting donations Saturday, May 19 from 11am to 3pm at Kmart on Montgomery Cross Road in Savannah. They'll take donations to Ware County Sunday.

In the recent weeks, the shelter has had an influx of pet food donations from the community. "This is just one of buildings of the food that we've gotten," said Walden, showing us a room with bags of pet food stacked to the ceiling. "Just about all of this is donations. It's just been amazing."

But food isn't all the shelter needs. Many items used for the general care of these animals are always in demand. If you are interested in donating, here is a list of some of the items the shelter needs:

Paper towels
Laundry detergent
13 gallon Hefty trash bags
Pet shampoo
1 gallon pump sprayers
Surgical gloves
Large plastic storage containers to hold pet food
And gasoline, so shelter workers can continue to go out and rescue stray and helpless animals.

The Okefenokee Humane Society has many puppies, kittens and adult dogs and cats ready to be adopted into new families. To see some of their adoptable pets, visit their website:

www.okefenokeehumanesociety.org

And if you lost your pet because of the wildfires, you still have time to pick it up. But Walden told us, "If you come out and identify your dog as being here and you decide you don't want it, please let us know because we will find it a loving home."

For now, the shelter will do whatever it takes to get these pets adopted. "That's our goal, is to find every one of these dogs a good loving home," said Walden.

The Okefenokee Humane Society is located at 1501 Blackwell Street, Waycross, Georgia. You can contact the shelter by calling 912.283.4214 for more information. 

Tune in to THE News at 6 tonight for more on the Okefenokee Humane Society and its unseen animal victims of the Ware County wildfires.

Reported by: Sarah Schuster, sschuster@wtoc.com

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