San Diego Humane Society, San Diego, CA
With grant funding from the ASPCA, the San Diego Humane Society built the capacity of its Emergency Response Team (ERT) to respond to animals in crisis due to natural disasters, including recent devastating wildfires.
Katie Woolsey, Grants Manager, has been with San Diego Humane Society since July 2014. She was at Escondido Humane Society (EHS) from December 2008 until July 2014, when EHS merged with San Diego Humane Society.
According to Woolsey, the ASPCA grant funds helped:
Outfit 18 ERT team members with critical fire gear, including boots, gloves, helmets, web gear, personal protective equipment, and two-way radios.
Purchase disaster response equipment, including ropes, pulleys, a glide for rescuing large animals, and animal care supplies.
Outfit an existing vehicle for disaster response by installing a console radio deck, a VHF mobile radio, radio antennas, a lightbar, perimeter lighting, and a vehicle wrap.
Provide ongoing training for ERT first responders, including two large-scale call-out fire trainings, three scout trainings focusing on fire prediction and wildlife fire optics, three wildland fire refresher trainings, and monthly animal tactical rescue trainings, including rope rescue and water recertification.
Provide important fire certification training, including fire shelter training, first aid, and tactical emergency casualty care to simulate emergency rescue scenarios—all critical to evacuate animals and provide wellness checks for animals and their owners who remain behind fire lines.
“Grant funding to support capacity building ensures that our Emergency Response Team is ready to respond to disasters at a moment’s notice.”
Tips for Shelters
Administrative Lieutenant Clinton Ganus, who oversees San Diego Humane Society’s Emergency Response Team, offers these tips for animal welfare organizations interested in starting a disaster response team:
Have a good working relationship with your local emergency management department and other local agencies.
Recruit and cultivate volunteers, as they’re the heart of the disaster response team.
Invest in the necessary equipment and supplies to support evacuation efforts, including vehicles like trucks and horse trailers.
Train, Train, Train!
Check out the Emergency Response Plan for Animal Shelters.
Since receiving the ASPCA funds, San Diego Humane Society’s ERT activated the following deployments:
The Southern Fire in San Diego County in May 2021. In response to this wildfire, which burned 5,366 acres and prompted evacuation orders for more than 500 residents, the ERT assisted San Diego County’s Department of Animal Services with the evacuation of two horses, a donkey, 14 rabbits, and several goats and chickens. On the night of the Southern Fire, the ERT also safely removed two horses stuck in a trailer that had detached from a truck and overturned.
The Caldor Fire in El Dorado County in August 2021. This rescue involved an Animal Control Operations team of Humane Law Enforcement officers, ERT members who assisted with fieldwork, and a Dispatch Team of ERT volunteers who helped with incident command.
The South Lake Tahoe basin in August 2021. The ACO team established temporary staging, searched for and rescued pets whose families had evacuated their homes, and monitored animals sheltering in place in empty houses. The Dispatch Team secured radio communications from fire incident command, performed dispatch for field units, set up a temporary animal shelter in Douglas County, and worked in the shelter and overflow areas.
The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fires in New Mexico in May 2022. ERT volunteer Summer Piper helped establish a temporary animal evacuation shelter for pets impacted by the fires and went behind fire lines to feed more than 100 animals left behind by owners who evacuated.
Animal Rescue Spotlight: Pixie and Bentley
While in El Dorado County, the ERT team made at least 70 rescues and assisted a variety of pets—from turtles and a chameleon to birds, chinchillas, and cats.
Pixie and Bentley were two cats whose owners were on vacation when they learned their neighborhood had been evacuated. Seeking help, the owners were connected to the ERT and provided the team with instructions on how to enter their home.
“When our officer got to the home, she noticed that the double doors in the back were wide open,” says Katie. “Having seen increased bear activity in the area, the officer made some loud noises. Inside the house, the kitchen was in complete disarray, and the cats were upstairs in a bedroom, its door closed and covered in claw marks. The bear must have smelled the cat food inside but, luckily, couldn’t get in.”
ERT members took Pixie and Bentley to a shelter at the nearby fairgrounds to be reunited with their family.
“Grant funding to support capacity building ensures that our ERT is ready to respond to disasters at a moment’s notice,” Katie says. “Because of the ASPCA’s investment, our team had the training, equipment, and supplies they needed to help these animals and community members during their greatest time of need.”