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Vet clinic working to save animals burned by Almeda fire

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Some of the cats and kittens showing up at the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center have obvious burns from the Almeda fire, but it could take days to see less obvious injuries like respiratory system damage.

“We’re taking a lot of the more critical patients in the area, especially burned animals,” said Dr. Rory Applegate, senior managing veterinarian for the emergency animal clinic in Central Point.

Some dogs have been treated at the clinic, but most of the burned patients are cats.

“They really took the brunt of the fire,” Applegate said.

Some owners didn’t have time or weren’t able to grab their cats when they fled the fast-moving Almeda fire that started Tuesday in Ashland and swept through Talent and Phoenix.

Cats are notoriously hard to find and catch in emergencies, even when they’re in the house, and most spend time outdoors, where they can run away. The Rogue Valley is also home to many stray cats.

The emergency clinic is treating cats and kittens whether they have known owners. Many Good Samaritans have brought in injured animals they’ve found.

Vets are seeing cats with singed fur and burns, especially to their faces, whiskers, eyes and feet.

Less obvious wounds include damage to their mucous membranes, mouths and airways, veterinarians said.

Cats with burned mouths may be reluctant to eat and drink, and if the pads of their paws are burned, they may not want to move to urinate, said Dr. Adam Reiss, an emergency and critical care veterinarian at the clinic.

Animals may have damaged airways from inhaling hot gases from fires, he said.

The cats being treated at the clinic may also suffer neurological problems — an after-effect of carbon monoxide poisoning, Reiss said.

“Ultimately, the big thing is managing pain, keeping these guys hydrated and clear of secondary infections in all the wounds that are created by the heat,” he said while checking a cat on an exam table.

For people with pets at home, Applegate said veterinarians are urging owners to watch for behavior changes that could indicate injuries from fire or smoke.

Pets often suffer in silence, but if they aren’t eating, drinking or behaving normally, that could be a sign of trouble, she said.

As with humans, smoke from wildfires raging through the region can irritate animals’ respiratory systems. Dogs and cats should be kept inside, except to relieve themselves, Applegate said.

“You should try to keep everyone indoors. For pets, take the same precautions you would take with other family members,” she said.

Watch for signs of respiratory damage and distress, such as if a cat can’t seem to catch its breath, Applegate said.

Dog owners should avoid letting their dogs roam unleashed and out of control, especially since they could be hard to catch if an evacuation alert goes out, she said.

Although most of the Almeda fire has been stamped down by firefighters, local spot fires and grass fires keep erupting. Talent and Phoenix remain dangerous zones with downed power lines and natural gas leaks.

The South Obenchain fire has burned more than 23,000 acres in northern Jackson County and is continuing to threaten the towns of Butte Falls and Shady Cove, which are under evacuation alerts.

To help the many animals in need, the clinic has launched a GoFundMe online fundraiser called “The Phoenix Fund.” The fund is named after the Phoenix Animal Hospital that burned down in the Almeda fire.

The Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center will distribute money from the fundraiser to local organizations, including the Southern Oregon Humane Society, Shelter Friends, No Pet Left Behind, Committed Alliance to Strays, Southern Oregon All Breed Dog Rescue Association and the Toby Fund.

The Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center isn’t taking money for itself from the fundraiser. The emergency clinic is also covering the cost of care to the animals it’s treating until their owners can be found, after which pets will transfer to their own primary vet.

The center is taking on the challenge even though staff and animals have had to evacuate twice this week to other veterinary clinics in the Rogue Valley, and then returned to their Central Point building when evacuation alerts were lifted.

While the emergency clinic is focused on burned animals and other urgent cases, other vet clinics in the area have stepped in to provide less critical care, Applegate said.

To donate to the GoFundMe fundraiser, go to gofundme.com and enter SOVSC-Phoenix Fundin the search bar. The fundraiser had raised more than $29,000 by Sunday.

For updates about the emergency clinic, including photos of animals without known owners, visit the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center’s Facebook page or its YouTube channel.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Many cats have suffered burned feet from the Almeda fire.{ }
Cats are receiving care for singed fur, burns and other injuries at the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center in Central Point.