Monday, September 20, 2021

Making Some Changes

 While Brett and I (and the animals) were evacuated and waiting to be allowed back home, we did a lot of thinking and talking about changes that we need to make given that we live in an extreme fire danger area and that we don’t want to move.  Despite the craziness, fear and discomfort of fire season, we love our little ranch and we love living in the mountains.  

The changes we discussed included downsizing our herd and getting an RV so we have a place to stay in the event of evacuation.  Finding a place to stay when you have three dogs with you isn’t easy.  We were very fortunate to be offered a place to stay, with the dogs, this time.  There are no guarantees for the future and driving out the gate, and past the police barricade, with no idea where we were going to sleep that night was very stressful.

Some of you know that I drove a little BMW coupe to work, as my commuting car.  I figured that if I had a long commute on winding country roads, I might as well have a fun car.  Besides, I’ve always loved those cars.  When I retired, it spent most of its time in the garage.  I hardly ever drove it.  When we evacuated, I parked it in the middle of the arena and prayed it wouldn’t burn.  Brett drove his truck and I drove the CRV.  Brett has never asked me to sell my car, he knows how much I loved it.  So, he was surprised when I suggested that we sell it and use the money towards a RV.  If we had a trailer, we would have a place to stay in the event of an evacuation.  And, we’ve always loved to camp so we could do that as well.  That first step is done.  We sold my car and put a down payment on a RV.  And, I don’t miss the car at all.  I wasn’t sad when I sold it.  Not for one minute.  I guess the BMW driving healthcare executive persona just isn’t me anymore.

The second thing we decided to do is to downsize our herd.  We can’t fit five horses in our trailer.  It carries three comfortably, four in a pinch.  We had time to move all five this time but that was unusual.  And, who wants to be in the position of choosing who doesn’t get out?  Not us.  

This past weekend, we took Luek down to his previous owner who lives on a huge cattle ranch on the Central Coast of California.  It was a very long drive, almost eight hours, but Luek trailered great.  He quietly munched his hay as we drove down the freeway and when we stopped for gas, he put his head out and let people pet him.  When we pulled up to the gate, he got very excited, stomping around and tossing his head.  He knew he was home.

His owners’ granddaughter asked if she could unload him and put him in the pasture.   Green grass!!  …and a 12 year old girl to fuss over him.  We feel so good about this decision.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Evacuation — A Goat’s Perspective

 When we received the first evacuation warning, we packed our bags and started moving the horses.  It took a full day, but we got them all to a safe location, far from the fire.  The goats, donkeys, dogs, barn cat and chickens remained on the ranch with us.  We took the dogs with us when we got the mandatory evacuation order and left the goats and donkeys in their large, dirt pastures.  

I requested that Animal Services come out and do welfare checks on the animals still at the ranch.  We were not allowed to cross the evacuation line and go check on them ourselves, but animal services was going from home-to-home and ranch-to-ranch and checking on animals, leaving food and water, if requested.  We got our request in the system first thing.  

An Animal Services officer called me when they got to the ranch.  She strongly recommended taking the donkeys and goats to the evacuation site at the fairgrounds in Amador County, about 30 minutes from here.  I explained that the donkeys do not load well — it took two hours to load Finessa last time we tried. And the goats might run amok, looking for shrubs to eat and avoiding the trailer.  But, yes, they were welcome to try.  We chuckled to ourselves.  No way would they get the donkeys in their trailer.  A few minutes later, the same officer called and said that all the animals were loaded and they were headed out.  The donkeys walked onto the trailer with no trouble and they got the goats too.  We stared at each other in happy disbelief.  

Later that evening, we got a call from the large animal evacuation site.  They had put the donkeys and goats together in the same pen.  They were at the fairgrounds so if you’ve ever been to the fair, and looked at the pigs and sheep and goats, you know the general size of the pen.  When they brought in dinner, Tuffy attacked Bear.  The donkeys and goats have been together before but only in a large pasture.  Tuffy has chased the goats a bit, but there was plenty of room for the goats to run away and Tuffy never chased them for long.    In the small pen, Tuffy was able to grab Bear leaving a very deep laceration on his side, just behind his front leg.  It was too deep to care for at the evacuation site so the on-site vet took Bear to UC Davis, a bit more than an hour away.  UC Davis provided free veterinary care at the evacuation site and for Bear that meant a trip to the veterinary school where he was stitched up, put on antibiotics and cared for.  After a few days, he was brought back to the evacuation site by one of the vets.  I received a detailed report of his treatment and discharge instructions.  A divider had been added to the goat pen (the donkeys were now in their own pen, further down the row) to create a safe, quiet space for Bear to continue his recovery.  

I was going down to visit the goats and donkeys every few days.  At first, I went every day.  The goats were very stressed.  In contrast to their usual life in a huge pasture, with no sounds except birds and the dogs barking at the occasional delivery vehicles, they were in a small pen with a couple of hogs next door.  The hogs were constantly grunting and squealing and sticking their snouts under the divider.  The goats hugged the far wall and looked at me with alarm.  The evacuation center was full so they had pens of more pigs, even some babies (so cute), sheep, goats, horses and donkeys around them.  Volunteers cleaned all the pens every day and fed the animals.  It was busy and loud and a bit overwhelming for the goats.  After a few days, they got used to the noise and activity.  When Bear was returned from the hospital, I sat with him in his space.  His stitches looked good and he was very happy to see me, baa-ing softly.  I sat on the ground, on a pile of hay, while he stood almost in my lap with his head pressed into my shoulder.  

We brought the goats and donkeys home yesterday.  The donkeys came home first and loaded easily.  We’ve been working with them since moving up here, leading them around periodically, and they are much improved.  I guess we didn’t give them enough credit for being improved.  Finessa had developed an abscess in her front hoof and it was wrapped with a poultice (UC Davis vet again).  She had been given banamine (for pain) before we arrived and so she was gimpy but able to limp out to the trailer.  Once the donkeys were home and settled, we went back to the fairgrounds to get the goats.  I brought a bucket of mulberry branches, a favorite of the goats.  The volunteers helped us build a chute from the goat pen to the trailer.  I waved some mulberry leaves under their noses and they followed me right into the trailer.  In a few days, I will remove Bear’s stitches.  In the meantime, all the goats are enjoying the peace and quiet and space of their pasture.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021


 We have been impacted by the Caldor fire.  We have been evacuated.  We are okay.  The animals are okay.  The ranch is still standing.  We are hoping to go home in a few days.  We are fortunate.

It started August 17 when Brett went out to do chores and immediately called me to come look, quick.  This fire column was way too close for comfort.  

The fire started about 10 miles from us and we thought we were safe.  But, we were wrong.  The fire took off and soon we found ourselves in an evacuation warning zone.  We stayed at home for about a week.  During that time, we reviewed our evacuation plan for the animals and packed out “go” bags: three days worth of clothes, passports, dog food, medications, etc.  The smoke was thick and ash coated everything.  There were a few days where we couldn’t see 50 feet.  We kept the dogs inside with us and ran the a/c so the inside air would recirculate through filters. It helped.  We also evacuated the horses.  We knew that it would be time consuming to move all of them, with multiple trips since there are more horses than there is space in the trailer.  We took the horses to a place about 45 minutes away where they settled into a huge shady pasture.  Other than Lucy kicking Flash which resulted in a huge hematoma and blood, but no internal injuries, it all went smoothly.  But, we were beat when we finished.  The traffic was horrible with people evacuating from homes up the road from us, so it took much longer to do than we anticipated.  

In addition to the smoke, there was a constant hum and chatter from the water tankers and helicopters flying overhead.  A retardant dipping station was set up at the end of our street.  The planes got bigger and started flying lower, just skimming the trees.  I’ve seen my share of small crop dusters dipping low like dragonflies over fields of crops.  This was different — HUGE planes, commercial aircraft sized planes, were flying low and banking over the ranch.  We were sitting on the porch watching them a week ago when the phone rang and we got the order we were dreading — get out now.  Mandatory.  We threw the dogs and our go bags into the car, I texted my contact for possible housing, and we headed to her house.  We left the chickens, the donkeys, the goats and the barn cat.  The donkeys and goats were in their large, dirt pastures.  I parked my car in the middle of the arena.  After being in crisis auto-pilot mode while loading the vehicles and leaving, I found myself fighting back tears as I drove with our bags and Brett following me in the truck with the dogs.  When we got to our destination, I pretty much collapsed in his arms.  I was scared.


A fellow Master Gardener offered to let us stay in her beautiful granny flat.  There is a large attached, fenced area where the dogs can run.  The dogs were very anxious and clingy the first few days but are doing fine now.  I called Animal Services the morning after we evacuated and asked them to do a welfare check on the animals left behind.  The went out and were able to evacuate the donkeys and goats to the large animal evacuation center at the fairgrounds.  Initially the goats and donkeys were together which was fine until feeding time.  Then Tuffy took a big bite out of Bear.  Fortunately, UC Davis has vets rounding at the evacuation sites.  The vet working that night loaded Bear into her car and took him to UC Davis where he was stitched up.  The donkeys and goats were separated.  They are in a building with pens that house horses, donkeys, goats and pigs.  The goats have pigs next door and they were scared of the snorting snouts poking between and under the rails separating them.  They are used to it now.  Bear is doing well should be returned to his herd today or tomorrow.  

The fire is raging towards Lake Tahoe and most of the west side, where we are, is under control.  There is one area, deep in a steep canyon, that is still problematic but they are optimistic they will get it under control in the next few days.  That area is, of course, very close to the ranch so we can’t go home until they finish up there.  

But the good news is we are safe.  Our animals are safe. The ranch is safe.  There are close to 600 homes that have been lost so far in this fire.  We know we are fortunate.  The generosity of the community has been overwhelming.  In the midst of all this chaos, we feel blessed.