Return of rain causes concerns for cat rescuers in North Bay fire areas

The return of rain to the North Bay raises erosion risk for fire zones, and is a concern as well to dedicated cat-rescuers. 

"When it steps on the plate, it snaps shut," said Jennifer Petruska, demonstrating a trap in the Coffee Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, where a few dozen traps are baited nightly. 

Most mornings, volunteers find a cat or two among the traps, a pet they can get into shelter, veterinary care, and hopefully, a reunion with their owners. 

"I would say hundreds of cats could still be found," said Petruska, " because we see them, we have them on motion-activated cameras, wo we know they're there, we've just got to catch them."
The effort was disrupted a bit Tuesday night, with notification that the burned lot where supplies have been stored, is being cleared of debris the next morning.

Volunteers, assisted by a local Santa Rosa Fire crew, carried case after case of cat food, cages, and other essentials to their cars, then relocated them to another home, now rubble, down the street.

The rain forecast also raised concern that cat food placed at night would get saturated, so word went out that plastic bins were needed.

Placed sideways, they provide some shelter for the feeding stations. Within a few hours, dozens more bins had arrived. 

"We have the most amazing team, and we're doing this all over Sonoma County," said Petruska. 
More than 100 volunteers coordinate their efforts through a Facebook page: Sonoma & Napa Fires Pet Rescue & Reunification.  

They work day and night to bring home cats who escaped the flames, but are now scared, skittish, and sometimes injured. 

"We definitely try to get them all home, but there is a huge bulk of people who think their pet perished, and they're just not looking," said Petruska, who launched the effort in the early aftermath of the fire. 

"It's amazing to be able to bring a cat home to an owner," added volunteer Becky Shapley, " and we see the joy and happiness it brings to a family. That's why we do it every day."   

Sometimes it takes many attempts at trapping, and many false-alarms until reunions happen.
"I probably went to the shelter to look at ten cats we thought might be Sally," said Santa Rosa resident Erin Randol, as she pet her 6 year old bob-tailed manx.

Sally was found in a trap on Thanksgiving Day, more than six weeks after the fire that leveled her home in Coffey Park.

When she turned up in a trap, she was filthy and her flea color was melted to her fur.
"My mom started petting her and as she petted her, she looked at her hands, and they were covered in black, just covered," recalled Randol.   

She shared cell phone video from Sally's first bath, as the water turned dark when ash and soot were washed from her coat. 

And once she was cleaned-up, Sally was a changed cat: no longer aloof, she's a cuddler who doesn't want to go outside as she used to. 

Her housemate Envy, also home alone with her when the fire broke out, is still missing. 
"They both got out, I hope, and we found Sally so far but we don't have Envy. So it's a little bit bittersweet for me, it's hard you know," said Randol. 

Volunteers say they have no plans to stop trapping and providing a clearing house for cats and their owners, as long as reunions are possible. 

"It breaks your heart and there's lots of tears," said Petruska, "and I'm so moved every time it happens because these people have lost everything, and you're able to say here is one piece that survived the fire." 

The group has rescued more than 70 cats in Coffey Park since the fire, and hundreds when including the other burned neighborhoods too.

They can use help: more volunteers, donations, and with the wet weather, a shed or storage pod so their supplies can stay dry and in one spot.