When Disaster Strikes: Animal Shelter’s Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire

On May 25, 2017, the veterinary team at the San Jose Animal Care Center was finishing up the day’s surgical procedures when they were contacted by the Animal Services Officers who notified them that goats had been injured in a wildfire in Milpitas, California. The officers could not immediately see the condition of the goats or how many were affected as they were relying on information from the fire department. The original estimate was that two goats had been injured.

The veterinary team was also told that there was a news helicopter reporting on the fire, so the team might be able to get a better view of the scene from looking at the footage. The team located the news clip.  It was immediately apparent that it was not just two goats involved, but upwards of 20 goats!

Watch the video footage from the helicopter. WARNING – The following footage is disturbing!

The goats had been trapped along a fence line with the fire burning towards them. Near the end of the video clip (around 46 seconds), the wind blows and the goats are suddenly engulfed by the flames, forcing them to run through the flames to another area of pasture that was already charred.

When the Animal Services Officers arrived on scene with the fire department, they triaged the goats and noted that there were a few goats whose burns were quite severe. The officers prioritized capturing the severely burned goats in order to expedite them to the shelter’s veterinary clinic for care. Capturing the goats was fairly challenging for the officers as these goats were already spooked & stressed, and thus, they were not amenable to humans approaching them.

The officers ran up and down the hills to corral and capture the goats. Once the first few were captured and loaded into trucks, the officers rushed them back to the shelter. Given the advance notice, the shelter’s veterinary team prepared the clinic for the goats impending arrival. When the officers arrived with the first wave of goats, the team was ready for them, and each goat was immediately examined & triaged.

The first three goats to arrive were all babies with burns covering their bodies, with the most severe burns being on their ears, lips and hooves. All of their eyes were swollen and irritated from the smoke and fire. One of the baby goat’s hooves had even sloughed off.

The goats were placed on oxygen, and a special cream called Silver Sulfadiazine (SSD) was applied to their burns to help soothe them as well as promote healing. After the three baby goats were evaluated, the team learned that four more goats were on their way, with several others likely to follow.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

Baby goat with burns.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

Hoof sloughing off on a baby goat.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

Baby goat with burns.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

Baby goats in a pen in the clinic after receiving care. Their eyes were so swollen they couldn’t open them.

Although the San Jose Animal Care Center had what would normally be considered a large amount of the special SSD cream, the extensive burns on the first three goats required most of the cream. At that point, there was not going to be enough SSD cream to treat all of the remaining incoming goats. Dr. Ostermann turned to the community as well as followers of Tails of a Shelter Vet, asking for help and donations of SSD cream to be brought to the shelter as soon as possible.

The community immediately responded, and thankfully, donations started arriving within no time! The second wave of goats included an adult female goat with burns over the majority of her body. She was in poor shape when she came in and required intensive care.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

The adult female goat with severe burns over most of her body, receiving oxygen and IV fluids.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

The adult female goat with severe burns over most of her body.

Ultimately, 15 burned goats came in to the San Jose animal shelter on May 25, 2017. With so few veterinary staff members to handle the massive influx of goats from a natural disaster, the veterinary staff called on both shelter staff members and officers to assist with holding the goats so that the veterinary team could examine and treat them. At one point, all three rooms that comprised the veterinary clinic were packed. Three surgical prep tables and two surgical tables had goats on them. There were additional goats in the adjacent x-ray room, baby goats in a pen on the floor of the clinic, and a few other goats being examined and triaged on the floor in front of the surgical prep tables. The scene was quite overwhelming! Still, it exemplified the incredible camaraderie and compassion amongst the team members as they all worked together to help these poor, injured goats.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

All hands on deck. Officers, shelter and veterinary staff combine forces to care for the goats.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

All hands on deck. Officers, shelter and veterinary staff combine forces to care for the goats.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

A large male goat cools off with a fan and wet towels.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

Baby goats in a pen in the clinic after receiving care.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

Baby goats in a pen in the clinic after receiving care.

One of the first three goats to come in was a goat that our team called “Charlie.” Charlie was just a baby, and his burns were most extensive over his face, body and legs. His cries were heart-breaking.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

Charlie, the tiny baby goat, in the most critical condition.

As the other goats arrived to the shelter and were evaluated, treated and moved to an enclosure where they were housed and fed, Charlie stayed with the medical team in the veterinary clinic throughout the day, continuously being monitored & treated. At the end of the night, Dr. Ostermann did not feel comfortable leaving Charlie unattended overnight, so she transferred him to a local emergency clinic for overnight care.

The next day, Charlie was transferred back to the San Jose animal shelter and spent the day on IV medications while being monitored within the veterinary clinic. The officers headed back out to the location of the fire to corral the remaining eight goats and bring them to the shelter for evaluation. The owner of the goats signed all of them over to the shelter, and fortunately, most of them found homes within a week.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

After triage and treatment, goats were kept in an outdoor pen to continue their recovery.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

After triage and treatment, goats were kept in an outdoor pen to continue their recovery.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

After triage and treatment, goats were kept in an outdoor pen to continue their recovery.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

The swelling around their eyes went down and the goats were finally able to open their eyes.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

The swelling around their eyes went down and the goats were finally able to open their eyes.

Animal Shelter's Heroic Rescue of Goats from a Fire Burn

Ears were no longer blistered and instead dry thanks to the donations of SSD cream that were received.

Unfortunately, not all of the goats recovered from the burns. The adult female goat that was burned over most of her body was one of the victims that did not survive. The other victim was the littlest of the goats – our dear Charlie. Charlie’s care was taken over by Love Creek Sanctuary & Farms, who immediately transferred him to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine for care.

Charlie was hospitalized at UC Davis for days and seemed to be improving, but he then took a turn for the worse so the medical team decided to euthanize him. While both losses were heartbreaking, particularly because of how hard we fought to save their lives, we must remember the 21 other goats that SJACC team was able to save. Given the circumstances in which these goats were found – being trapped in a wildfire – it is truly amazing that any of them survived.

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