South Bay team helps reunite Camp Fire pets with owners

As victims of the Camp Fire struggle to cope with the magnitude of their loss, one South Bay team is providing a help and hope, by finding key family members once lost and feared dead. For Santa Clara County animal control officer Jeremy Selbach, the pain of losing a pet is so intense, he felt compelled to help Camp Fire victims facing that unsavory prospect.

“These people,” said Selbach, choking back tears, “They’ve lost everything. And to be the person who hands them their dog, it hits home for me.”

Over the last six days, Selbach and his partner, rookie officer Jessica Ibanez, set up and worked three make-shift shelters at the Chico airport. Hundreds of animals, from as large as dogs, down to small reptiles, were displaced and feared lost when the Camp Fire started November 8.

“It was emotionally you know draining a little bit. But to provide my service over there was really rewarding,” said Ibanez, equally overcome with emotion..

Ibanez, Selbach, and scores of volunteers severed as a receiving site for nearly one-thousand pets separated from their owners. Some needed medical attention from burnt limbs. Almost all needed a person to help through with the emotional upheaval that comes with evacuation and loss.

“Have the attention of a human being so that they know, we’re not there to, it’s not a bad place it’s a good place. We’re just helping you situate yourself until your owner comes back,” said Selbach.

Over the course of the six days, Selbach and Ibanez rose early and went to bed late, spending their days trying to get the lost pets on a more regular routine of walks and playtime. They were able to reunite about 100 animals and owners.

“To know that they were able to have their animal back was the number one joy that I received out of it,” said Ibanez.

The pair is back at the county’s animal shelter, but both say they stand ready to travel north to aid lost pets, and the people that have a deep connection with them.