In early December, the Lilac Fire struck the North County community of Bonsall. Its cause may never be known. Santa Ana winds fanned the raging flames as they tore through the region, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. Over the course of 10 days, more than 4,000 acres burned, several homes were razed, billowing smoke darkened the skies and thousands of uneasy North County residents were forced from their homes. No humans were killed, but the destructive fire claimed dozens of animal lives. We didn’t want the dogs, cats and other animals of the two San Diego Humane Society campuses in Oceanside to be next.
When we got word that our Ocean-side shelters had to be evacuated, I raced up to North County from Point Loma. As quickly as I traveled, volunteers beat me there. I arrived to find about 100 people from every nook and cranny of San Diego County, some who had already clocked a full day of volunteering, ready to pitch in and get our animals to safety some 40 miles south in San Diego. With their help, it took only three hours to evacuate more than 200 animals. It was extraordinary.
People come together in times of need like the tragic Lilac Fire, but SDHS’s tireless volunteers go above and beyond in everyday situations as well, whether standing in the hot sun to welcome people as they visit each campus, helping out during nighttime training classes, reading to roomfuls of cats, or carting guinea pigs, rabbits and rats around for nursing home visits. Even on holidays when the shelter staff is down to a skeleton crew, volunteers still heed the call. It’s incredible to see people so committed to helping others in need. These dedicated volunteers do exceptional things on a daily basis and make it seem routine. Seeing them at work brings welcome encouragement, especially after disaster strikes.
April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month, a time to recognize those who donate their time and talents to our cause. But we cannot thank our volunteers enough all year round. SDHS couldn’t carry out its mission to inspire compassion without the help of our more than 5,000 active volunteers. I’m extremely proud of them and am humbled that so many people give their time to help animals. If you want to be a part of it, there’s always room for one more.
Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA
President and CEO
San Diego Humane Society