While we fight the worst, most institutionalized abuses of animals around the world through advocacy, extensive outreach and helping to pass laws that will improve the lot of millions of animals, there’s another side to our work. We are also highly active in direct care and service at the grassroots level, assisting animal shelters with our expertise and resources to assist individual animals, especially those in crisis.

Following the recent wildfires in Oregon, hundreds of families in Lane County—where nearly 500 homes and 170,000 acres were lost—called the local animal shelters for help with finding lost animals. County authorities contacted our Animal Rescue Team with a request for assistance with the trapping of owned cats in areas that were being evacuated. Dave Pauli, senior advisor for wildlife response and policy at the Humane Society of the United States, traveled from Montana to Oregon to support that work.

Dave is a practiced emergency responder with extensive domestic and international experience. Over the following eight days, as you will see in the accompanying video, he worked closely with officials from the Lane County Animal Services and the Greenhill Humane Society and together they rescued more than 20 cats and, in some cases, reunited them with their families.

Trapping animals who have been through a traumatic experience, especially cats, requires a great deal of patience and expertise. Dave and the team set up motion sensor cameras at several locations to confirm the animals’ presence, and then set humane traps to recapture them.

Lily was one such cat. Lily’s owner was grieving because of several personal losses and was afraid her beloved companion was lost forever. The cameras, however, showed Dave that Lily was still in the neighborhood and two days later he succeeded in trapping her.

Another cat the responders found was Gizmo, whose family lost their cabin to the wildfires. Gizmo was one of two cats the family reported as missing. He had been gone for 21 days and they had little hope of finding him; Gizmo had been kicked by an elk as a kitten and was shy and aloof and more likely to hide than approach rescuers for help.

Trapping Gizmo took many days and extraordinary perseverance. Dave and the shelter staff set down traps for him but had no luck the first time around. On their second try, and after two days, they were holding Gizmo in their arms. He was in good shape and unhurt, albeit a little shaken. At the Greenhill Humane Society, he was soon picked up by his family, ecstatic to be reunited with their beloved cat.

In addition to rescue and reunion efforts, the responders also established food/water stations and helped with educating the local community on caring for lost and displaced animals.

During his time in Lane County, Dave reports coming across many heartrending scenes of burned animals, including ducks and a juvenile raccoon—a sad and gruesome reminder of the toll wildfires can take on animals and particularly wildlife. But the team also managed to help other wildlife, moving some Pacific Tree Frogs out of a totally burnt area to some green space, and freeing one golden crowned sparrow they found entangled in plastic garden mesh.

A number of shelters around Oregon have taken in pets displaced by the fires in Lane County, and as residents return, we urge them to look for lost pets not just at their local shelters but also with rescue groups in Eugene, Bend and Portland, which have taken in animals.

Disasters like these are a reminder to all pet owners to microchip their pets, as this helps shelters quickly identify and locate owners. If you haven’t already, make a disaster plan for your pets and assemble a disaster preparedness kit. And if you plan to evacuate in case of a disaster, be sure to include your pets in your plans because animals left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost or killed.

We’re often in the news after our efforts result in the passage of a bill or the announcement of corporate reform that promises to help animals, and we’re proud of those accomplishments. But as we work for a humane future, we are just as proud to alleviate the suffering of individual animals in crisis. It serves as a constant reminder to us of the strength of the human-animal bond, and we are happy to be part of these inspiring stories.