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Like most of us, I watched the news in horror as the wildfires ripped through Maui in August. It is hard to fathom the losses the people of Lahaina have experienced.
According to Pasadena Humane Animal Control Officers, James Garcia and William Van Stralen, nothing prepares you for witnessing the tragedy first-hand.
Garcia and Van Stralen recently returned from Maui, where they deployed for a week to assist our colleagues at the Maui Humane Society.
When Maui Humane reached out to shelters in California requesting relief for their animal control officers, we at Pasadena Humane were more than happy to be able to help. James and William readily volunteered.
James told us, “It’s an honor to be able to help the community of Lahaina and provide some relief to both the people and the animals who are affected by the recent disaster.”
For many weeks now, Maui Humane Society has been on the front lines, caring for the pets who have been displaced, lost, injured, or killed due to the fires. They have been working tirelessly to help reunite lost pets, treat those with injuries and recover those that perished.
During their deployment, James and William patrolled the burn areas to search for lost pets still unaccounted for two months after the fires.
“Nothing could have prepared us for the devastation,” said James. “Neighborhood after neighborhood is just gone.”
Officers Van Stralen and Garcia took a wealth of experience with them to Maui. William has been an animal control officer at Pasadena Humane for four years, and James, now Field Services Manager, has been in the department for seven. He started at Pasadena Humane as a veterinary technician for two years.
The officers patrolled for five days, often going to affected areas before residents could return to the rubble where their homes once stood. Many families were forced to leave their pets behind when they fled the fire.
Sadly, our team recovered dozens of deceased animals. The officers found consolation in knowing they were sparing pet owners from being the ones to find these charred remains.
Some pets were able to be identified through their microchips. James and William reached out to provide an important sense of closure for families missing their pets.
As James said, “I know if it were my pet, I would keep looking if I didn’t know for sure what happened to them.”
While on Maui, the officers say what kept them going was the resilience of everyone they encountered.
“We couldn’t walk through the shelter without a dozen people stopping us to thank us for being there,” recounts James. “We could feel they felt a great sense of support in sharing this burden, and sometimes they just needed another shoulder to cry on.”
Efforts are still underway to help skittish cats wandering in the area. Our officers were able to resupply feeding and watering stations for the cats, while Maui Humane officers worked to humanely trap them.
Disaster response is unfortunately an important and necessary part of our work in animal sheltering. Our Chief Humane Officer remembers responding to the 2009 Station Fire, the largest wildfire in the history of Los Angeles County.
Fortunately, evacuation orders were issued well in advance. Our role in that situation was primarily to provide temporary shelter for pets until their owners were able to reclaim them.
We never know when another fire, earthquake or catastrophe might strike. By helping other animal welfare organizations in their times of need, we hope they will be here to support us if we ever need assistance.
Dia DuVernet is president and CEO of Pasadena Humane. pasadenahumane.org
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