What is it like to lose everything material in your life in a disaster except for the clothes on your back and a few items stuffed hastily into your pockets or perhaps your car? What is it like for all of that to disappear, but much worse, to lose a beloved animal?
What relief and joy a safe reunion with your lost dog, cat, horse or other pet must bring! The Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV) played a key role in successful rescues during the catastrophic Marshall Fire in Boulder and Broomfield counties. The fire is on record as the most disastrous and devastating in Colorado history, with its impact only beginning to manifest itself.
Jan McHugh-Smith is the CEO of HSBV and generously granted an interview. What brought her to her work? She has been in animal welfare for 38 years and loves the HSBV mission to keep people and pets together. That’s precisely the enormous service effort accomplished under her leadership during the Marshall Fire.
HSBV is a nonprofit organization funded by the community through donations and also produces service revenue through a variety of programs. McHugh-Smith heads 100 staff members and 600 volunteers (who commit to two hours of service for a minimum of six months). They run a full-service veterinary clinic, manage pet adoptions and offer an extensive dog training program. Their skilled trainers provide one-on-one personal consultations and a variety of classes, including fun trick classes to promote bonding. Their popular Puppy Club invites in puppies under five months for four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon for socialization and experiences, such as meeting people in wheelchairs and greeting bicyclists! You can sign up on their website.
Their small retail shop, Sonnyside, sells pet supplies as a convenience for adopters. They sponsor annual events, like Puttin-On-The Leash and Doggie Dash. For updated schedules and details visit boulderhumane.org/events/.
The Marshall Fire hit with an intensity and immediacy that placed citizens, businesses, emergency responders, and domestic and wild animals in its life-threatening path. Igniting midday, McHugh-Smith recounts that many people were at work or away on vacation, not at home with their pets. Tragically, many animals perished. Miraculously, many were rescued.
Boulder County Animal Control and the Sheriff’s department, along with good Samaritans, collectively searched for and rescued 55 pets and brought them to HSBV for medical treatment and boarding. This included a cockatiel and a tortoise; apparently tortoises are great escape artists! HSBV vets examined and treated each animal for things like smoke inhalation and burns. The Boulder County Fairgrounds housed large animals, and CSU/Fort Collins assisted with injuries. There was also grief counseling and a vigil held at HSBV.
McHugh-Smith emphasizes the incredible generosity and compassion shown by the community — providing food, supplies and more — for use at HSBV and for pet owners needing assistance. Colorado Pet Pantry set up food drives and distributed to families.
“People want to help because they feel so badly about what happened,” she adds. Channel 9 NEXT show host, Kyle Clark, reached out to viewers for support and tapped HSBV as the nonprofit to receive donations. The $225,000 raised is earmarked to provide free adoptions for people impacted by the fire, free boarding while owners are in transition and support funding for the disaster/evacuation-related Safety Net services that HSBV provides its service area. McHugh-Smith notes that animal control groups and shelters throughout Colorado work closely together.
“We’re here for the long haul,” she concludes. “This has left a forever mark on our community. Over 1,000 people are displaced from their homes and jobs, struggling with how to rebuild their lives.”
But, there is life after loss. Some grateful people and pets are back together, thanks to HSBV and many others.
KEY THINGS FOR PET OWNERS TO PREPARE FOR UNEXPECTED EVENTS.
- A Go Bag with important papers, like pets vaccination records, leashes, photos, pet prescriptions.
- Establish a neighborhood safety plan to rescue your pet/others if you and your neighbors are not at home.
- Microchips in pets are an excellent, inexpensive and painless way to keep track of your furry friends.
- Record phone numbers for local animal shelters, Animal Control and the Sheriff’s dispatch in case your pet needs rescue.
- For cats: keep a crate handy inside. Cats are difficult to catch quickly in a fast exit.
MCHUGH-SMITH SHARED HER FAVORITE, HEARTWARMING STORY FROM THE MARSHALL FIRE RESCUE:
“Higgins is one of the dogs that arrived at HSBV. His mom and dad run a dog boarding facility that encountered an emergency evacuation. Being holiday season, their facility was full. They faced difficult choices getting animals quickly into vehicles. They didn’t have enough room and had to let some of the dogs go. Higgins was one! Can you imagine making that choice? Higgins was found by somebody and subsequently got away. Then, he was found by somebody else and brought to us at HSBV to be reunited with his guardians.
I was there. Higgins was ecstatic. He had spent two nights out, so he was full of burrs and with burns on his pads that our vets treated. It was such a relief for his mom and dad! We had so many reunions like that. The good news is that every pet that came to shelter was reunited, including all 15 dogs kept at HSBV from the boarding facility (except one cat still receiving burn treatments).”
My name is Camden Hall. I adopted Merlin the day after my 26 birthday from the Longmont Humane Society. From the moment we met, it was love at first sight. He was so calm, friendly and affectionate. He had entered the shelter after being found in a blizzard, his eyes frozen shut, and barely survived.
Our friendship grew. On December 30, 2021 as I was leaving for work, Merlin ran to the sliding glass door in my bedroom. He wanted me to let him out, so I left it open, so he could come and go outside. It was around 2:30 p.m. when I heard the news about the Marshall Fire while working my snowmaking shift at Eldora Mountain Resort. It was too late to do anything; our town had been evacuated. My heart sunk thinking of my beloved Merlin.
I posted Merlin’s photo on the Boulder County Fire Lost & Found Pets and on Facebook with my information. The next day my cell phone was blown up with messages, “we’ve found your cat!” I had forgotten that he was chipped. I couldn’t believe that he was alive. He was meowing for help on the porch of my next-door neighbor’s house, which somehow didn’t burn to the ground like mine. He was rescued by Soul Dog Rescue and brought to Northside Emergency Pet Clinic in Westminster, CO for immediate treatment.
He’s doing much better now. On Tuesday February 1, 2022, I was able to bring him home for several days after 33 days in the hospital. He returns every three to four days for bandage changes, which are almost finished. All four paws are healing. His spirit and personality are coming back, too. He has been such a trooper through it all and super-cooperative with the hospital staff at the hospital with his many treatments. He needs to gain back more weight, but that will come with time, as winter becomes summer, and as we both rebuild our lives together.
You can support Cam and Merlin via this Go Fund Me: gofund.me/a745671d.
Originally published in Summer + Fall 2022 Issue.
SANDY FERGUSON FULLER is a publishing industry professional with over 50 years spent as author, illustrator, international literary agent and freelance editor. Her primary focus is children’s picture books, originally mentored by Maurice Sendak as a student at Yale. Once introduced, the picture book genre captivated her imagination with its unique blend of story and illustration. She hopes that her own books, as well as those she has helped others to publish, will touch many souls, young and old. She is a regular contributor to CO YOGA + Life.