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Fire evacuation sparks panicked pet exodus

When families were forced to flee the Waldo Canyon Wildfires, they left over four hundred of their pets in the care of the Humane Society, Pike's Peak. Now that most evacuees have returned home, the remaining pets tell the tale of how many homes were destroyed.

COLORADO SPRING, Colo. — When evacuation orders came at 3 p.m. last Tuesday, the animal population at the Humane Society here exploded. Residents in the projected path of the Waldo Canyon fire came streaming in, seeking shelter for pets that they couldn’t take to evacuation centers and hotels. Others who were too far from home to get back in time called the society in a panic, requesting that their pets be rescued.

It was a painful and sometimes tearful scene at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.

"Animals are such a comfort to people," said spokesperson Erica Meyer. "People had to leave not only the comfort of their homes but the comfort of their animals."

In a matter of days, with staff working 24-7, the nonprofit organization took in 439 displaced pets brought in by their owners — mostly dogs and cats, but also rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and turtles. Between Tuesday and Sunday, animal law enforcement officers rescued another 108 animals from the evacuation zone, including one woman’s beloved chickens.

"Apparently it was really close," Meyer said of the eleventh-hour rescue. "The lady said 'I don’t care if my house burns down.' She just wanted her babies. Her chickens were her babies."

The Humane Society set up special areas to care for the displaced pets — including an emergency shelter in donated space — registering, vaccinating and providing medications to pets, one by one.

The society drew on its 2,000-strong army of volunteers to walk, pet, feed and clean up after this massive menagerie, while handling its usual clientele — some 40 to 60 abandoned, stray and feral animals a day, Meyer said.

As the crisis subsides, many of the evacuated pets have gone home with their humans, and the emergency facility has been closed.

About 50 displaced animals remained on Tuesday, including the two chickens, and some of them likely will be in for the long haul because their homes were among the 346 that burned to the ground last week, said Meyer.

"We will care for them until they are united with their families," she said.

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