I spent October 1-5 at Animal Place in northern California, as part of a gathering of Food for Thought program team members from across North America. Our group’s five-day agenda included strategy meetings as well as volunteering with the 300 pigs, cows, rabbits, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys and other animals now resident at the primary Animal Place sanctuary in Grass Valley. We also spent one day volunteering with chickens and other animals at the original Animal Place Vacaville location, now called Rescue Ranch, which coordinates large-scale rescues and adoptions of factory farm egg-laying hens.
This Animal Place gathering was deeply meaningful for multiple reasons. The Food for Thought environmental and wildlife program arm came about through a partnership between Animal Place and the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund – a perfect way to support animal rescue, veganism, and wildlife conservation causes to which Greg and I had a shared commitment during his life. Moreover, this was my first trip back to the original Animal Place Vacaville location since Greg and I had visited together in the year 2000, when our contact with and education about those farm animals inspired us to become vegetarian and later vegan. And it was the first time I got to meet Alysoun the pig, a Grass Valley sanctuary resident who had been named after me. 🙂
I had barely returned home to the east coast when, on the night of October 8, the Atlas Fires began burning in the immediate vicinity of both Animal Place locations in Grass Valley and Vacaville.
First, that night, the Grass Valley sanctuary was threatened by two fires within less than ten miles of the property border, one of which spread to burn 300 acres before being contained. The Grass Valley staff went to a neighboring farm to help evacuate goats and dogs, while also preparing for the possibility that they would have to evacuate all 300+ of their own animals. Fortunately by October 11 the Animal Place Grass Valley location had been declared safe.
But by that same day, the Atlas Fires had crept to within five miles of the Animal Place Rescue Ranch in Vacaville, and my friends there decided to move over 1,000 resident chickens – along with ducks, pigs, goats, sheep and their human caretakers – to relative safety at the Grass Valley location. Animal Place had never actually evacuated their sanctuary facilities before, but had long had a fire evacuation plan in place, and immediately activated their volunteer phone tree to begin the evacuation. “From the time we decided we were going to evacuate to when we actually pulled out was a four-hour window,” reported Rescue Ranch manager Jan Galeazzi. “We got over 1,000 animals crated up and evacuated in four hours. It was amazing. I was in the middle of it, but I was amazed at how everybody goes to task.” (More in the October 14 Sacramento Bee article “Animal sanctuary evacuates as wine country fires continue.”)
Once everyone arrived safely at the Grass Valley sanctuary, Animal Place began intensifying efforts to adopt out as many as possible of the 1,000 evacuee hens – and within days, over 200 of them had been placed in permanent new homes. Animal Place also put out a call for local volunteers to help with the suddenly expanded caregiving and cleaning needs at the Grass Valley sanctuary – and they quickly filled all volunteer slots for the weekend of October 14-15.
Thankfully for the Animal Place Rescue Ranch residents, the Atlas Fires had been 70% contained by October 17 – and together, staff and volunteers returned the many hundreds of evacuees from Grass Valley back to their Vacaville home. (More in October 16 articles “Animals Evacuated from Shelter during Atlas Fire Can Return Home” from Fox40, and “Rescue groups expect to return evacuated animals this week” from The Reporter.)
Amidst so much death and destruction caused by the Atlas Fires, what happened at Animal Place seemed nothing short of a miracle – though of course it was thanks in large measure to the hard work, skill, and compassion of everyone who works at the Grass Valley and Vacaville locations. I am incredibly proud to support the organization and its sanctuaries through the Greg Fund.