Saturday, May 9, 2009

Smiles of relief

Submitted by Janell Matthies, UAN Emergency Services Manager

Yesterday, we got up with the sun (what we could see of it through the smoke) to set up the emergency shelter in a barn on Santa Barbara Humane Society (SBHS) property. With the help of the PetSmart Charities Emergency Relief Waggin’ we set up enough crates of all sizes to house the many, many animals already lined up with their owners in front of the shelter.

Many of them were in tears bringing their animals in, but once they saw how organized and efficient the entire shelter operation was running, they visibly relaxed and felt better. The staff at SBHS has been absolutely amazing in their dedication to care for their community’s animals. They have been working continuously since the fire broke out, grabbing snatches of sleep in back offices whenever they could. Now that they have the UAN reinforcements they so urgently needed, many are able to go home to check on their own houses, see their families and get some rest.

We had to expand the emergency shelter a few times during the day to accommodate all of the animals coming in. The EARS volunteer team is incredibly capable and hard working. It is so amazing to watch this group of people, who have never met before, let alone worked together, come together and create our “shelter in a box,” as SBHS staff is calling it.

The animals are comfortable and relaxed, many eating, napping and asking for attention. It’s great to see a pet’s reaction when his or her owner comes to visit. Sleepy, lazy cats turn into frisky kittens and big, old Labs rattle their cages with excitement at seeing their moms and dads.

One Arnold Schwarzenegger look alike arrived with a very lost and panicked look on his face. He told me he was looking for his cat, who he thinks his neighbor may have brought in but was unable to find out for sure. I asked what his cat’s name was and when he told me “Sneaker,” I knew right where he was. The cat had already gotten up out of his napping spot and was walking to the front of the cage, after hearing his owner’s voice. This was definitely a dog born in a cat body. Sneaker banged around his cage excitedly and circled, circled, circled. He jumped and poked and played with the man for half an hour. This big, burly guy talked in a baby voice to his kitty the whole time. It was very gratifying to see him leave, waving and with a big smile of relief on his face.

Many of the people coming in are still evacuated and unsure of the status of their home. The shelter is a place they can come to and get comfort from their pet that they so desperately need. We are continually thanked profusely by the staff and by the community. Even people who did not need to house their animals here are so thankful for what we are able to offer their friends and neighbors. I know all of the volunteers feel the same way I do -- grateful to be able to care for these pets and help the citizens of Santa Barbara when they need it.

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