In 2016, we founded the Lucky Ones Ranch. A non-profit animal sanctuary. We became a forever home to many animals. Many of which were no longer wanted, or even neglected. We hoped to be a place where we could educate the public about the humane and ethical care of animals, with the goal of teaching respect and compassion for ALL living things...
We are now juggling with having our evacuated animals at 7 different locations. We don't know where we are going to end up in the end of of this nightmare, but hopefully it's with everyone back together again.
It was 0137 hours. I was home alone and asleep. My husband was at work, on patrol, protecting the citizens in the county where he serves as a police officer. I was asleep, but slept lightly because of my constant worry about the 100+ animals that rely on me for their care.
I was roused awake by a distinct sound of sirens. My heart sank and I knew it was bad. Right now, as I write this, I can't sleep. I can't sleep because all I can hear are those sirens in my head when I try to sleep.
The sirens were coming from the two deputy's vehicles that were trying to alert the neighbors of the impending danger. Then my phone rang. It was a neighbor calling. She could see an orange glow from her hillside home.
I called Vince to come home and in a panic, I screamed "Come home! Code 3". All my years of working as a police dispatcher and that's all I could say to him. Then the lights went out. And I was terrified.
I focused on getting the animals out that were housed inside: 15 dogs including 2 that are completely blind, 1 that is partially blind, and another one that has cerebellar hypoplasia, and needs to be carried out.
I put on my ranch overalls, found my headlamp and started getting all the dogs loaded into a Ford Transit van that we recently purchased (using our own personal money) for exactly this reason...to evacuate.
Next, I grabbed three cats who thought they were having a third dinner but were appalled when instead, I threw them in crates.
Much to my surprise, ranch volunteers Anthony Ferreira and Victoria appeared amidst the smoke and smell of fire. Vince must have called them as he rushed home to me. We started loading up all the workshop animals; 3 sheep, 10 rabbits, 2 guinea pigs and 3 chickens. I nearly left behind Russell Crowe who had perched in his typical spot above the B Team sheep - Baahnana, Biscuit and Buttons. We had done this just a few months before for another fire and I was thankful that we were better prepared this time. I had played this out in my mind many times. Who to take? What to take? How much time do we have before we are overrun by flames?
Anthony started to hitch up Dr. Varga's trailer that she had loaned to us a few months beforehand. She knew we needed a trailer more than she did. I frantically called ranch volunteers, but at 2am, no one picked up. When the power went out, so did our internet connection. So, I raced up the hill to try and get a phone signal, and to move the unicorns, Ricky and Clover into the pasture.
I knew I had very little time, as I heard small explosions in the near distance.
From our previous preparations, and evacuation assessment plan we developed with the help of Solano CART, we had decided the best option of survival for our 7 horses / 2 donkeys / 1 Holstein steer was to have them shelter-in-place in an open dirt pasture with little vegetation. So, I led them all to this pasture and prayed that they would be safe.
I needed to get the word out that I was in desperate need of help and I made a series of FB posts. I was initially reluctant to ask for help because I was worried that untrained people would make the situation worse. But I was all alone and I could not do it all by myself. Strangers began showing up and I was relieved to get the extra help. Vince and Solano CART arrived shortly after.
But with more help, came more vehicles and people that blocked our access out. I'm sorry to those I yelled at to move their vehicles. We had discussed in previous ranch trainings to park in a particular way and leave the engine running. But these people didn't know, they weren't ranch volunteers, but they showed up. And I'm forever grateful.
Once the small animals were loaded, I made the decision to start loading things like the fans, the expensive swamp cooler, a few dog beds, the animal medication bins etc. I did not want to waste time in getting things that could be replaced but knowing that the oppressive 100 plus degree heat would return in a few hours, I needed stuff that would help make the animals more comfortable, where ever we ended up.
If those people had not shown up, we would not have been able to also rescue as many birds. We were able to take the 4 turkeys, the 8 ducks, and even the 2 large tortoises made it out. They also grabbed a bunch of chickens. Meanwhile, I haltered Josephine the mini horse and gave her to Solano CART.
The three sheep: Sully, Hudson, and three-legged Annie were surprisingly more difficult to evacuate and resisted all the way to the trailers. I was grateful that we had moved them earlier in the week to the front pen, nearest to the road, because of the excessive heat. I don't know if we would have gotten them out in time if they were in their regular pen.
Then we got the goats, Starsky and Hutch out. The llamas were appalled at my attempts to halter them, despite my bucket of grain and I left them in the main pen. I turned on all the waters to flood the piggy wallowing area. The 14 pigs were all asleep in different areas of the main pen and none the wiser.
I ran into the house and grabbed our passports and social security cards. I looked in my room and I honestly felt like there was nothing to take. In retrospect, a suitcase of clothing would have been smart. But I never thought about me. I even left behind a box of brand new contacts.. and my retainers.. ugh!!
Luckily, Vince is more sentimental than me and grabbed framed wedding photos. I left with what I was wearing: a headlamp, a t-shirt (no bra), my trusty ranch overalls, and shoes without socks.
My cool collection of socks with whimsical animals and curse words. Left behind.
Our wedding photo album. Left behind.
Many other things. Left behind.
I searched for more cats and found one more and loaded her up in a crate. I ordered Anthony to leave with his truck and trailer, which was filled with the cats, birds, and sheep. I left with 14 dogs in the van. Vince put one dog in his back seat, and then I drove away at 0308 hours. I never even looked back at the house.
That's it. I drove away at 0308 hours and prayed.
I went straight to volunteer Randi's home and frantically rang the doorbell to wake them up. They began to set up pens and got ready to start receiving the small animals. But ash was even falling at her house.
I then drove to Centennial Park to meet up with the the impromptu group of volunteers. We waited there and made sure everyone who was at the ranch was accounted for. There was about dozen of us... men, women, all colors, shape and sizes, and we made a prayer circle, and we prayed together. It was a beautiful moment.
Vince and I have a long road ahead of us. We are stressed. We are sleepless, but our main focus is the animals.
The outpouring of support we have received from the community is breathtaking. And both of our police chiefs for Walnut Creek and Lafayette PD called me to personally to express their support for us. It literally takes my breath away, and makes me feel so loved and not alone.
Vince and I, for many years, have helped out so many people and animals with tragic and difficult stories.
We set-out on conquering all the bad in the world, by 'being the good in the world' and helping others in need..whether on duty as a 911 dispatcher / police officer or as animal rescuers.
However, I guess even at some point, even the rescuers need rescuing.
My anxiety is going up as I write this... but I am putting it out to the universe... I wish for a piece of land where we can live with the sanctuary animals once again...
For those of you who have visited us, you have seen how well we take care of the animals and how happy and friendly they are with everyone. We are their best caretakers, and would love the opportunity for our family of furry and feathered ones to be back together again.
Currently, our family is broken into 7 different evac sites and I can only hope and pray that everyone stays healthy while they are apart from us.
As for me and Vince? I would like to think we are tough. But we are human. And as humans there are moments we've had in the past 48 hours that we just wanted to fold and crumble.
I know it breaks Vince's heart to see me fall apart.. so I try to hold it together the best I can when I see him.
We now have some clothes, toiletries etc. and we are settled in and everyone's asleep except me. I used to hate hearing Vince snore. I would sometimes pinch his nose shut. (Okay I only did it once. But it did work)
But now at 0202 hours, he's fast asleep and it's music to my ears. I think he was up for 36 hours yesterday.
He took photos of what is left of our home and ranch. I have not seen it for myself.
I don't know if I want to see it. We rented this location from a great family. They lived in a beautiful white colonial home across the street, and that is gone, too.
I am so grateful for 9 years of amazing memories.
During our time, we rescued so many types of animals, and had so many visitors come meet their favorite ones. They wanted to meet them because they fell in love with their rescue stories and how they flourished under our care.
There is 'Fonzie', an Australian Cattle Dog, who wobbles because he has cerebellar hypoplasia. We made an epic cross country trek to rescue him.
There is 'Dodger', a Pit/ Cattle Dog mix who was set to be euthanized because he bit an officer. At the ranch, he often would pick up our traffic cones and leave them in the most random locations.
There is 'Biscuit', a very naughty sheep who has his own hashtag of #sheepshenanigans. Look up our videos on FB and you will know what we're talking about.
There is 'Cozette', another Cattle Dog but her specialty is carrying around cat food cans.
There is 'Mason', a giant, but gentle Holstein steer who was severely emaciated.
And there is 'Ricky & Clover'. The two are very very old grey Arabian horses who we lovingly refer to as the 'unicorns'. Because, why not? We truly had a magical place where unwanted and neglected animals found new life.
So many stories.
So what now?
We have have two missing animals: Swiney Todd (pig) and Tigerlily (cat). A search party will head out on Saturday morning to go look for them.
Currently, we have the large animals at two different evacuation sites: one in Vacaville and the larger location in Fairfield. Once the Fairfield location is setup to house more animals, we will reunite them all ...and it will become a temporary place for the Lucky Ones, until we find a place to call home again.
Thanks for your help.
Thao & Vince
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