As a series of fires devastated Oregon this fall, Alley Cat Allies rushed to help affected cats and kittens. We connected with hard-hit counties as well as grassroots activists from in state and beyond to provide critical resources and expert guidance to save cats’ lives.
Today, our work continues. Evacuees are still searching for lost feline family members. Community cats and kittens need ongoing food and care. Alley Cat Allies is committed to supporting on-the-ground fire relief efforts through the long period of recovery to come.
This month, we traveled to southern Oregon’s Jackson County, where the Almeda Fire that burned from September 8th to 15th accounted for more than half of all structures destroyed by fires statewide.
We assessed and responded to the situation for cats in the area, worked with the dedicated advocates caring for them, and tapped into the determination of a community to ensure cats are not forgotten victims of the flames.
These are our notes from the field.
When it burned in September, the Almeda fire raced through the Rogue Valley, the cultural and economic heart of Southern Oregon that includes Jackson County. Thousands of people had mere hours to evacuate upon seeing distant smoke before their homes were overtaken.
In the chaos, many couldn’t find their cats in time to flee with them. Meanwhile, community cats instinctively hid away to protect themselves from searing flames that melted metal and burned homes down to their foundations.
By the time the Almeda fire was contained, it had scorched over 3,200 acres and destroyed 2,800 homes and businesses, most of which burned in the first 24 hours of the fire. The fire mainly traveled along major highways Interstate 5 and Oregon 99, which are lined by towns and mobile home parks.
Alley Cat Allies was on the front lines in the impacted towns of Talent, Phoenix, and Medford. There, colonies of surviving cats living outdoors are fed by advocates and residents—often just across the street from the twisted remnants of burned down homes.
In many areas, the fire seemed to mysteriously spare some homes while everything around them was razed.
The fire was fast and furious, but cats are resilient, incredible survivors. While there was loss of life, a great number of cats and kittens made it through. They search for sustenance. Some wait for their families to find them.
Alley Cat Allies is helping Jackson County and activists on the ground provide these cats with needed food, shelter, care, and reunion.
Cats are experts at hiding—especially during and after a disaster. However, if you have people who know the lay of the land, as we had in local activists, you learn all the out-of-the-way places cats settle. Soon, cats and kittens were emerging for the food and water we brought for them.
To help, we made sure to purchase even more cat food for the colonies while we were in town. And when rescuers in Medford discovered a cat hiding beneath rubble during a feeding time, we ensured he could be rushed to a veterinarian.
The cat, who we’re calling Furry, was severely dehydrated but is now recuperating. Alley Cat Allies is covering the cost of all his treatment.
Furry is friendly and already neutered, so we believe he may be an evacuee’s missing family member. Our goal for him now is a happy reunion.
Most disaster relief efforts for animals begin with cats like Furry, or more accurately, with the families determined to find them. Even when a person loses their home, it’s common that their first concern is the beloved cat they were forced to leave behind—or weren’t even home to evacuate.
Desperate for help, they ask activists to enter fire zones to look for their cats. That is usually how rescuers discover colonies of displaced cats and begin to care for them.
Even if a specific cat isn’t initially found among a colony, providing community cats a safe place to eat and rest also coaxes pet cats out of hiding. This is often the first step to reuniting a family.
When we first arrived in Jackson County, we came across multiple impromptu shelters people had erected for the cats, sometimes out of twisted debris from the fire. Alley Cat Allies has since provided the cats with brand new outdoor shelters. As temperatures begin to drop in Oregon, cats and kittens will now have a safe place to rest.
The day of shelter setup, another new arrival took us by surprise. A group of kittens seemed to appear out of thin air and climbed atop a shelter (then promptly stumbled off, too small to keep their balance). Now, the little family is being cared for in an activist’s home.
Recovery from disasters like the Almeda fire is a long and complex process. Lives were tragically lost. Much of the Jackson County community is struggling, and some residents chose not to return at all after their homes were burned down.
It will take strong, united efforts to save the lives of the cats and kittens affected by the flames. For months to come they will need people to rush to their rescue with critical resources like food, or to help find the families from which they were separated.
Alley Cat Allies will continue to provide support in conjunction with the county and advocates. Keep watching for more of our stories from the field.