Last fall, devastating fires left families displaced from their homes and communities with the monumental task of rebuilding. The Camp Fire was the worst in California history because of the tragic number of lives lost and structures destroyed.
In the midst of it all, pets and other animals were caught up in the confusion and often separated from their owners. To help manage this problem, employees from the City and County of San Francisco’s Animal Care & Control department — members of Teamsters 856 — were enlisted to travel north to Butte County to provide their experience and expertise to the emergency situation.
Eleven animal care attendants (ACA) and animal control officers (ACO) made the trip — some once and others multiple times to provide whatever help they could.
“I went the day before Thanksgiving, and was told there was a need for animal sheltering experience because there were so many animals coming out of the burn zones,” explained James Purcell. James has worked as an ACA at the City and County for three years. “I did things like wash dishes and vaccinate animals, and then I shadowed the people who were in leadership before us.”
James says that the day before he got to the shelter, there were over 300 cats and more than 350 dogs in their temporary shelter. “Over 300 is like nine times more than our normal volume in the Animal Care and Control department,” said James. “But by my second trip, that number had been cut in half.”
Andrea Ramos has been an ACA for almost two years. When she was told she had been selected to go to Butte County and help, she made the choice to go. “I went the weekend after Thanksgiving because I wanted to help,” she said.
Andrea explained that despite the urgency of the situation, she felt prepared because of the policies and procedures they use in the Animal Care & Control department. “I felt like I had the skills and the stamina to help out.”
Peter Flores has been an ACO for 21 years. On a day-to-day basis, he rescues animals, assists the fire department if an animal is involved in a fire, writes citations, testifies in court, and a lot more.
For 21 years, Peter has been responding to San Francisco emergencies. The Camp Fire was Peter’s first time being sent to an emergency situation outside of his normal territory. When he got there, it was nothing like the job he’s done for decades. “We weren’t told anything other than where to report,” he said. “We were in a terminal at the Chico Airport that had been set up as a temporary shelter. I did anything I could.”
Throughout his time at the shelter, Peter helped inventory the animals, cleaned cages, unloaded dog cages, walked dogs, and delivered cat food. “I was happy to be there and didn’t care what I was asked to do,” he said.
For Peter, what really put things in perspective was driving around the town and seeing the FEMA tents set up, and people camped in front of supermarkets because they couldn’t go home or their home was no longer there. “Everyone seemed to get along,” he said. “I guess there really isn’t much to fight about when you’ve lost everything.”
In December, all the Animal Care and Control employees, police, fire, and medical first responders who assisted with the emergency relief efforts in Butte County were honored for their work by the City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
“The honor was well-deserved,” said Mark Leach, the Teamsters 856 representative who represents the ACAs and ACOs. “These Teamsters got the call and were willing to go above and beyond to assist people and animals who were in the worst possible situation.”
Special thanks to ALL of the City and County of San Francisco Animal Care & Control staff who assisted during the Camp Fire:
We are all proud to call you all our Teamsters 856 sisters and brothers.
In the San Francisco area and looking to adopt a pet? Check out the City and County of San Francisco’s Animal Care & Control department: www.sfanimalcare.org/adoptable-animals