Archived News

Hospital Deeply Impacted by California Wildfires

October 28, 2015

Students gained valuable experience treating burn victims.

Students gained valuable experience treating burn victims.

On September 14, the UC Davis veterinary hospital received the first of what would become dozens of animals from the Valley and Butte Fires over the following three weeks. In total, the hospital treated 56 animals – 40 cats, 5 chickens, 4 horses, 2 pigs, 2 goats, 2 dogs, and 1 rabbit. In order to accommodate the sudden influx of patients, faculty and staff worked long hours (volunteering nights and weekends) to care for the animals and to transpose areas of the hospital into makeshift care wards.

As the Valley Fire first broke out, a team of veterinarians from several entities of the School of Veterinary Medicine—the Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT), Center for Equine Health (CEH), the veterinary hospital’s Large Animal Clinic (LAC) and the International Animal Welfare Training Institute (IAWTI)—performed search and rescue missions and cared for animals in the fire zones. The team—comprised of VERT founder and LAC clinician Dr. John Madigan, Dr. Eric Davis, CEH Director Dr. Claudia Sonder, and IAWTI’s Drs. Patricia Andrade and Robin Chadwin—went door-to-door, ranch-to-ranch, looking for animals that had to be left behind as the fires approached so rapidly the residents barely had time to get out with their lives. Later the next week, LAC residents Drs. Emily Berryhill, Rana Bozorgmanesh, Emily Schaefer, and Fiona Wensley also ventured to the field to care for animals in both fire zones.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, a team of veterinarians, animal health technicians and students—led by Dr. Steven Epstein, a specialist in the Small Animal Clinic's Emergency and Critical Care Service—worked tirelessly on the admitted animals. The “all hands on deck” situation called for coordination from every level of the hospital, with faculty, staff and students all coming together to make the influx of emergency patients as smooth as possible. All of this was handled during a time when the specialty hospital was already at nearly 90 percent capacity with normal patients unrelated to the fires.

At 9 p.m. on a Saturday night—normally a quiet time at the hospital—the halls were bustling with foot traffic. Students filled a care ward, tending to the burned cats, some of which were just small kittens longing for affection from anyone who came near the cages. Technicians and emergency room veterinarians, weary from a long week, continued on, knowing the next day was bringing more of the same.

Faculty and resident veterinarians were called in from other Services, and each were assigned animals to treat. Drs. Boaz Arzi, Christie Balcomb, Ingrid Balsa, Emily Berryhill, Angela Borchers, Laura Cagle, Munashe Chigerwe, Bill Culp, Gina Davis, Pete Dickinson, Sophie Doering, Pablo Espinosa-Mur, Kate Farrell, Fabrice Fosset, Lisa Gamsjaeger, Sara Gardhouse, Crystal Garnett, Molly Gleeson, Catherine Gunther-Harrington, David Guzman, Michelle Hawkins, Meera Heller, Guillaume Hoareau, Sabrina Hoehne, Sean Hulsebosch, Karl Jandrey, Michael Kent, Shannon Kerrigan, Isabelle Kilcoyne, Casey Kohen, Marguerite Knipe, Tania Kozikowski, Mary Lassaline, Gabriele Maier, Stephanie Majeski, Julie Meadows, Matt Mellema, Elizabeth Montgomery, Carrie Palm, Marcos Perez-Nogues, Tami Pierce, Fauna Smith, Peter Stroem, Noemie Summa, Jennifer Surmick, Jessie Sutton, Paolo Tempini, Albert Torrent Crosa, Katarina Varjonen, Karen Vernau, Johanna Wolf and Alyse Zacuto all volunteered their expertise to treat the animals. 

Veterinarians also pitched in with media interviews to help the hospital get the word out to the community about the unclaimed cats and to promote the public donation fund established to help cover expenses. In all, 18 media interviews were given in two weeks – more interviews than the hospital has ever done in that span of time. Interviewed were Drs. Munashe Chigerwe, Gina Davis, Steven Epstein, Casey Kohen, John Madigan, Jane Sykes, and Erik Wisner, who as an associate hospital director, fulfilled the majority of the hospital leadership needs throughout the crisis. Also contributing leadership roles were Penny Farnham, Dr. Kate Hopper, Dr. Pam Hullinger, David Lish, Dr. Gary Magdesian, Marika Pappagianis, Cheryl Stafford, Dr. Jane Sykes and Rob Warren.

Through microchips and photographs on the school’s Facebook page, VMTH personnel were able to reunite 16 cats and one of the goats with their owners. All of those owners lost everything in the fires, but reunions with the animals lit up their otherwise damaged worlds.

Perhaps the hardest working members of the team were the staff members, especially the patient care technicians. Going above and beyond included: Liz Abell, Brenda Arroyo, Raeleen Avila, Debra Bugarin, Truc Cao, Brandie Cates, Melissa Cavazos, Megan Cheney, Kathleen Davis, Robin Fisher, Ian Harbison, Briana Holland, Cole Jacobsen, Teri Joseph, Michael Juarez, Jennifer La Sance, Ryan Leffingwell, Nicole Lietz, Amanda Lothian, Gina Malcolm, Melissa Marks, Corinne Morgan, Sophia Najera, Sarah O'Neill, Kristina Palmer, Brianna Primas, Nikki Rochin, Courtney Sadler, Kristen Sein, Lorrie Spring, Kim Stockard, Carol Tower, Thomas Wassersleben, Hope Watts and Stacey Zindel.

While all of these technicians were busy tending to the animals from the fire, their colleagues were also busy with the hospital’s normal caseload of patients unrelated to the fire. Contributing indirectly by filling the void left by tending to the fire animals, those technicians are to be thanked, too.

Lastly, a big thank you to the client services staff, who fielded hundreds of phone calls from owners trying to track down their animals. Not to be forgotten, of course, are our students who were always willing to step in and lend a helping hand whenever needed. Although an unfortunate circumstance, this experience proved to be a valuable learning opportunity for them.

Congratulations, team, on a job beyond well done!

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About the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital
The William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis—a unit of the #1 world ranked School of Veterinary Medicine—provides state-of-the-art clinical care while serving as the primary clinical teaching experience for DVM students and post graduate veterinarian residents. The VMTH treats more than 51,000 animals a year, ranging from cats and dogs to horses, cows and exotic species. To learn more about the VMTH, please go to Timely news updates can be received on its Facebook ( and Twitter ( pages.

Media Contact:
Rob Warren
VMTH Communications & Marketing Officer