“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The disastrous Valley and Butte fires have tested our communities and colleagues, bringing more dread with each new wave of bad news. The fourth year of an insidious drought and the subsequent explosive fires this season have brought devastation to our region, threatening people, property, and their animals. Our emergency response teams, led by Drs. Claudia Sonder, John Madigan, Eric Davis and many others, did not hesitate in their response, immediately offering their compassionate expertise to relieve animal and human suffering. They were quickly joined by a broad coalition of veterinarians from the communities affected by the fires and from the California Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps of the California Veterinary Medical Association.
Miraculously, the Middletown Animal Hospital escaped significant damage and became the epicenter of hope for the community that suffered the most extensive damage. Dr. Jeff Smith of the Middletown Animal Hospital and his team have worked excruciatingly long hours to save injured animals, offering hope to their fellow citizens that they will be reunited with their beloved animals. Each life saved renewed hope that their nightmare would eventually end.
As the response evolved over the past week, additional resources from our VMTH were organized by our leadership team led by Drs. Erik Wisner, Steven Epstein, Joie Watson and their exceptional staff teams organized by Ms. Cheryl Stafford. I could not be more proud of our emergency, large and small animal staff who worked unwaveringly to accommodate the influx of animals injured by the fire.
Rob Warren and our communication team worked with our VMTH staff to document the exhausting efforts and to connect animals with their owners, who were separated during the chaos of the explosive fires. Our house officers and veterinary students in the clinic and in the field have risen to the challenge, expanding their efforts beyond their normal service and rotation demands. Driven by the desire to help their community, our people are demonstrating the values of the veterinary oath, as they come together to reveal their own humanity in service to animals and people in our region.
As we learn more over the coming days of the devastation created by this disaster, more heartbreaking stories will unfold as the extent of the human and animal loss is discovered. Many tales will also be told of how people came together to help their fellow neighbor, doing what they could to forget their sorrows in the service of others. We will learn of unrecognized and random acts of human kindness, many never making the local news.
Despite the lack of public recognition, each person who helped save an animal or comforted a stranger while fighting back tears will gain inner strength, knowing they selflessly served and their efforts helped reduce the pain. These are the events that make our lives matter, bringing warmth to our soul. Given enough time, these memories may also bring a smile to the face of those who came forward to help, quietly reflecting on the connection made to reduce the agony of a fellow human in the midst of a tragedy. In serving others, we have gained a sense of humanity and confirmed our vision to address societal needs.