A prison program called Paws for Life temporarily took in a group of deaf dogs in need of shelter as a wildfire burned its way up the California coast
Lisa Tipton wasn’t too worried for the first two days of the fearsome Sand fire, which was scorching thousands of acres in the Santa Clarita valley north of Los Angeles, filling the summer sky with smoke and ash, destroying homes.
But then the winds changed, blowing toward the hilltop ranch where she and her husband, Mark, run a shelter for deaf dogs. Forty-five dogs were in their care at Deaf Dog Rescue of America when the fire began, and she couldn’t wait until the last minute to get them to safety.
“One ember would have lit up our hill with no notice,” Tipton said. “I agonized. Should I move them? We put their crates together. I went out and got a U-Haul truck … As it started to get dark out, there were flames on the hill across the freeway. I decided not to wait for a mandatory evacuation.”
But once the decision was made, Tipton couldn’t find a refuge for her 45 very special charges. She was trying to put a leash on a fractious dog that was biting and snapping in fear when the phone rang. Karma Rescue was offering to take 20 of the animals, but Tipton wanted to keep them together.
She yelled. She hung up. Karma Rescue called back, over and over until Tipton picked up the phone again.
“The prison can take all the dogs,” she said she was told. “I sat down and started to cry. The dog licked the tears off my face. I went out and told the group, and a cheer went up.”
The facility in question was California state prison in Los Angeles, a maximum-security lock-up in the city of Lancaster. Fourteen inmates at the prison are involved in a program called Paws for Life, training and socializing a dozen or so hard-to-adopt dogs at a time, preparing the animals for life – someday – in a real home.
This is how the inmates – who call themselves “Men of Paws for Life” – described their efforts:
“When we were told we have 50 shelter dogs which were evacuated from the Sand fire coming to our kennels, we sprung into action,” the inmates wrote in a joint statement. “For five days now, working 12 hours a day, we have bathed, groomed, fed and medicated each dog.
“We have been scrubbing kennels since they arrived,” they said. “The dogs arrived nervous and panicked, so along the way we have spent as much time as possible showing every dog they are loved and in a safe place.”
Tipton said the men had no idea that the dogs headed their way were deaf, until they laid eyes on them and put two and two together.
“They saw that most of them were white,” said Tipton, whose husband is a volunteer trainer with the group that brings shelter dogs to the prison.
“They know we operate the deaf dog ranch and most deaf dogs are white. They look at Mark as a giving individual. To give back to us made them really, really happy.”
The Tiptons’ charges were lucky. While the deaf dogs were being cosseted in prison, the Los Angeles county department of animal care and control put out a call for donations to help the hundreds of animals that landed in its care: “337 horses, 187 goats and sheep, 117 chickens, 34 pigs and many other animals including llama, mules, rabbits, ducks, turkeys, donkeys … and three tortoises”.
“Never before in recent memory,” the department wrote, “have so many pets and farm animals required emergency sheltering in Los Angeles County.”
The Sand fire burned 41,432 acres, destroying 19 houses and 97 minor structures. It threatened more than 10,000 buildings, caused the evacuation of 20,000 people and led to at least one fatality.
The fire is now 98% contained. The deaf dogs went home on Saturday. The Men of Paws for Life are grateful, they said, for the support of the prison staff and for the chance to help.
“Our work has been rewarded,” they wrote, “by the love of each dog that looks at us without judgement as if to say thank you.”
Original source: The Guardian