British Columbia·Feature

800 pets and counting: Volunteers at Kamloops emergency pet shelter 'overwhelmed' by support

More than $200K has been donated to help owners of dogs, cats, chickens and even bearded dragons.

More than $200K donated to help owners of dogs, cats, chickens and bearded dragons

Volunteers at the emergency pet shelter in Kamloops, B.C., say they've been "overwhelmed" by kindness while caring for more than 800 animals after owners were evacuated from their homes due to wildfires.

The pop-up animal shelter sprung up on July 7 when more than 1,000 evacuees streamed into an emergency evacuation centre in the city.

Volunteers jumped into action and started accepting pets outside because animals weren't allowed inside the centre.

"We started off with eight people and $40 in the bank two weeks ago," explained Jocelyn Sweetnam, shelter organizer and treasurer of Four Paws Food Bank.

She says they've now been given more than $200,000 worth of donations from individuals and corporations to support evacuees and their pets.

"It's overwhelming," she said.

'Animal people'

Among the volunteers are Lucas Mandin and Nathan Sands who have been volunteering for the past four days.

After hearing how dire the wildfires had become, the two men drove from Maple Ridge to the Interior hoping to lend a hand on the front lines.

"Able-bodied guys, even dig some holes if we had to," said Mandin. "[But] found out that there's a lot of liability issues ... so we came to the shelter and realized there's a lot of help that was needed with the animals."

Since then, they've set up camp by the animals they're caring for — feeding, walking and sometimes even sleeping in the kennels.

"We're more animal people than people [type of] people," Mandin said with a laugh.

Hens, puppies and bearded dragons

Sweetnam says pet owners have dropped off a wide range of animals — from egg-laying hens to goldfish.

One family arrived with their dog who had just given birth to a litter of 10 puppies.

But she says one of her most memorable arrivals involved a bearded dragon.

After its owner evacuated from their home in a hurry, the reptile arrived so cold, it was near death.

She says volunteers tried to use water to warm it up but the taps at the public restroom weren't hot enough.

They were forced to be creative.

"We had Starbucks coffee on site," she explained. "So we filled a hot water bottle with coffee and it saved his life."

14 to 16 hour shifts

There has been such an outpouring of support that Sweetnam says she's lost count of the number of people who have given, or tried to give, their time.

She says so many volunteers have signed up, she can't promise everyone a shift.

Those who have come onboard, she says, have been "amazing" — many from her core team worked 14 to 16 hours a day initially.

After putting in an overnight shift, she said on Thursday, Sweetnam said had worked nearly 30 hours but had no complaints.

"For me, it's a chance to take a burden off of someone's shoulders who's already carrying such a huge burden," she said. "They don't have to worry about that piece."

With Great Danes come great responsibility

One of the evacuees feeling grateful for the pet shelter is Jordan Knight.

He was forced to leave his home in Williams Lake while dog-sitting his friend's Great Dane.

Knight says although he didn't worry too much about travelling with the statuesque dog because "he's pretty calm," he was relieved to know the animal would be well taken care of after they arrived in Kamloops.

"I didn't really have too much time to plan," he said.

After staying at the evacuation centre for nearly a week, he says he's now planning on reuniting the dog with its owner.