Blackened fields and withered trees line portions of Highway 246 leading into Solvang, an area still denuded of life after two fires broke out in the Santa Ynez Valley last month.
Though no one was injured in the fires, the blaze displaced and injured many animals, some of whom have ended up in the care of the Solvang-based Animal Rescue Team.
A handful of injured animals came to the facility as a direct result of the fire.
On top of that, May and June are typically “baby season” for much of the wildlife that makes its home in the valley, so the team is buzzing with activity.
Noozhawk got a tour this week of the 1.1-acre facility that is home right now to about 115 animals and more than 30 species.
The facility’s director, Julia Di Sieno, was caring for a fawn suffering from an infection and helping veterinarian Joni Palmero administer a shot of antibiotics.
Soon after, Di Sieno got a call that a bobcat had arrived and needed a place to recover from an illness.
“You never know what’s coming,” she said.
The center is permitted by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife to receive and rehabilitate animals until they are able to be released into the wild again.
The center is one of five coyote-rehabilitation centers in the state, and the only fawn-rehabilitation center between Calabasas and San Francisco.
Just after last month’s fires started, two badly burned animals came into their care that later had to be euthanized.
“That’s the tough part, deciding how far will you go” to save the animal,” Di Sieno said, explaining that the team must take into account limited resources as well as the amount of pain the animal is experiencing.
A fawn and a raccoon also ended up at the facility because of the fires, and a handful of kestrels and hawks were smoked out of their nests.
“We saw them trying to get away,” she said.
Agencies such as the California Highway Patrol will call Di Sieno if they have an injured animal that needs treatment. A handful of local veterinarians also donate time to the center for animal medical care.
“It takes a village to save one life,” she said.
Di Sieno has a good relationship with Fish & Wildlife wardens, which came into play last year when a mountain lion was spotted in a Santa Barbara neighborhood.
The lion was released “way back in the hills,” Sieno said, commending the wardens for their work in tranquilizing and relocating the cat.
The organization also partners with the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, which cares for all kinds of birds and some small mammals.
The Carriage Road facility has a nursery that doubles as an operating room that can be used for any type of animal surgery. The facility even has an animal ambulance, and Di Sieno talks about the critical “golden minutes” when an animal is waiting for care that can make a difference in an animal dying or surviving.
More than half of the wildlife that came through the center last year tested positive for rodenticides, and secondhand poisoning continues to be a problem as larger mammals ingest smaller mammals that have eaten poison set out by farmers and residents.
The center is hoping to expand “in the very near future” to a larger property that would allow it to incorporate a sanctuary for bears as well as provide rehab for mountain lions.
In the 3½ years the center has been there, “we’ve saturated this 1.1-acre property,” she said. “We’re ready to go big,” adding that the new center would ideally be a living museum and educational center for native wildlife.
Donations are down 30 to 40 percent this year and meat, pet food, vet supplies are always welcome, as well as volunteers to help care for the animals and transport them.
Click here to find out more about the organization or for information about how to donate.