Karly Grace Vaughn, a foster volunteer for Cat Rescue and Adoption Network in Springfield, got a call from her boss asking her to pick up a few cats. It was Sept. 6, and one of the center’s foster volunteers in Coburg had been put under a Level 2 evacuation notice due to the Holiday Farm Fire.
Vaughn arrived at the property as the evacuation notice increased to Level 3 — “leave immediately.” The woman threw a crate at her with two cats in it. Vaughn, a recent University of Oregon graduate, remembered thinking two more would be fine in her small Eugene apartment.
Suddenly, the woman’s daughter handed Vaughn a second crate with another two.
Vaughn brought the four cats back home to her usual three — two fosters and her “foster fail,” Yukon, who she cared for but ended up adopting. The next 12 days were “two weeks of too many cats,” she said.
Since the Holiday Farm Fire started burning northeast of Eugene and Springfield, fire damage evacuation notices and hazardous air quality have displaced residents and their animals. Animal rescue organizations like Greenhill Humane Society of Eugene and CRAN have been helping with the disaster response.
Greenhill Humane Society has provided emergency pet boarding for animals from evacuation zones, distributed donated pet food and supplies and assisted in reuniting lost pets with their owners. They also work with Lane County Animals in Distress and VCA McKenzie Animal Hospital in their disaster efforts, Megan Brezovar, Greenhill’s event and community engagement manager, said.
Greenhill temporarily houses animals at no cost and with no time limit as people find suitable and stable living conditions, Brezovar said. They also distribute supplies to people affected by the fires so they can continue caring for pets even if they’ve lost their homes.
This preventative action is important at Greenhill, Brezovar said, so people don’t have to be in a situation where they need to surrender an animal because of financial concerns. The organization’s emergency boarding program is meant to aid pet owners, and Greenhill does not adopt out people’s pets, Brezovar said.
Katie Lively is a planning, public policy and management graduate student at UO. She also works as a volunteer & foster care coordinator at Greenhill. Lively’s community went quickly from no warning to Level 3 on Sept. 8, she said.
For about two weeks, three of her cats stayed at Greenhill. She and the cats were all stressed at first, Lively said, but her cats quickly adapted to the new environment.
“I already knew that this was an amazing place with amazing people who truly do care deeply about animals.” Lively said. “But, with my own cats, it added this personal level of really getting to see that in action. That was so powerful.”
All of Greenhill’s volunteers and staff are trained to deal with animals and provide them with care, Brezovar said, which is especially important during stressful times.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Greenhill had an influx of people applying to foster animals but a decrease in volunteers due to space restrictions. When the Holiday Farm Fire started, existing volunteers and new ones stepped up to help care for the animals.
When the fire started, Greenhill asked for donations of supplies and food. As community members and businesses brought in donations, the volunteers also aided in organizing and distributing them.
“It’s been so magical to watch so many people be so generous and kind,” Brezovar said. “We finally had to say, ‘please stop bringing things, we are filled.’”
On the CRAN volunteer Facebook page, Vaughn said community members without any affiliation to the organization have been asking where they can donate and how they can help.
“It’s amazing the support that’s come from this community of just trying to take care of all these animals,” Vaughn said.
Between Greenhill’s many donors, fosters and volunteers making themselves “available at the drop of a hat,” Brezovar and Lively have witnessed overwhelming support.
“When we are in such a divisive time in our country right now,” Brezovar said, “it is amazing to see people of all walks of life coming in.”
Vaughn will continue to foster cats as long as she can, she said, even though it was only something she picked up because of the pandemic. She would like to see more people stepping up to donate, volunteer and foster, especially in the wake of such devastating fires.
“It’s not as hard as it sounds — unless you’re doing seven,” she said, “seven was a little hard.”
Since she is no longer housing seven cats, Vaughn said, it seems like the worst part and immediate danger are done. But for some affected by the fires, it’s far from over.
“There is a long road ahead. The people that have lost everything have lost everything. They’re going to need a lot of support,” Brezovar said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We are looking ahead to making sure these people are supported, their pets are supported through the long haul and we don’t forget about them because they’re going to have a tough road ahead.”
Greenhill is working with the Humane Society of the United States and Lane Fire Authority to plan and start search and rescue efforts, Brezovar said. She expects to soon reunite more pets and owners through these efforts, and urges people to report lost pets on Greenhill’s website.
Lively and Brezovar are concerned that climate change will only continue creating more devastating fires in the future.
“We need to just be prepared and keep looking forward,” Lively said, “to be ready to support people in the community as much as we can.”