“OC Fairgrounds needs help. I’m going—Gate 8—join me!” gasped Long Beach resident Sherri Stankewitz on her Facebook page on Monday. She then jumped into her vehicle and began barreling down the 405 to the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa. There, horses and other farm and ranch animals were waiting in the ash-hazed air to be transferred to a safe area where their owners could pick them up.
Ominous view of the sun in Costa Mesa. Photos courtesy of Sherri Stankewitz.
The Canyon Fire 2 in Orange County has so far blazed about 8,000 acres of land in Anaheim, including Anaheim Hills, where it's not uncommon for privately owned horses to be stabled. Frightened equine owners had brought their horses to several areas that would keep them safe, the fairgrounds being one of them. When Stankewitz and her friends got to the grounds, volunteers and staff were arriving with horses they’d brought from homes in Anaheim or had been found wandering there.
“It was really super amazing—everybody just jumped in, and people were pulling horses off!” Stankewitz said. “They were up in Anaheim, and people were running down the street with horses. The volunteers would pass by with a trailer and yell, put your horse in here!”
Stankewitz is an old hand at dashing off somewhere to save animals. She’s brought back dogs from Tijuana who were in horrifying states, got them vetted and fixed, and adopted out to new homes through her nonprofit, West Coast Animal Rescue (WeCARE). In January 2016, she was the subject of a Prank It Forward episode, thanks to her efforts, and deservedly won some terrific prizes. Among them was an expenses-paid trip to Aruba. Bypassing Trip Advisor for island highlights, she researched dog rescues online and spent most of the vacation hanging out at the rescue and helping the founder. She walked dogs, gave them baths, and took them to the beach. Once in a while, she’d go snorkeling. She filled an extra suitcase with donated flea medicine, pet toys, collars and other dog items to bring with her.
“It was only, like, $50—big deal,” she said. “Since then, every vacation I go on, I take a bag of donations for any needs for small ‘underdog’ rescues.”
Stankewitz found out about the effort to help with the horses from a friend who lived in the area of the Canyon Fire 2. She called the fairgrounds and was told to come down, that they needed bodies. She stayed from 4 o’clock in the afternoon until 10 at night helping get the horses from the trailers, labeling them and their holding areas with masking tape, and logging them in. If the owners were unknown or the information could not be found on the horse’s gear, they wrote a description of the horse as to color, breed and gender.
“They were super great,” Stankewitz said of the staff and volunteers at the fairgrounds. “Their being calm helped the other people be calm. All we did was sign in and start to work. The people at the fairground put makeshift corrals up—they were working super-fast—it was amazing how fast they put the corrals up. They also dropped off food for us—pizza, McDonald’s, Taco Bell—which made it nice so we could continue to work.”
From left: volunteers Isabel Gallardo, Amy Blackburn, and Stankewitz.
Volunteer Linda Josey came to the fairgrounds with a phobia of horses. She shed it pretty quickly as she was immersed in caring for them. A longtime trooper!
Stankewitz attemps to elicit a horse laugh.
Roxanne Hack, Communications Associate for the fairgrounds, said that at the present moment, there are 127 horses there as of Tuesday afternoon. There are also small livestock and three tortoises as well.
Animals other than horses found sanctuary at the Orange County Fairgrounds.
Stankewitz at one point found herself in the mooooood for a little nose-to-nose.
“We only have so much capacity, but we have room for the smaller livestock,” Hack said.
The horses are waiting for their owners to show up at the fairgrounds as well as the Los Alamitos Racetrack and the Fairplex in Pomona.
Stankewitz slept long and hard after her dedicated effort, which is the best reward for a job well done. She hopes that her fellow rescuers were compensated likewise.
“As much as a hard-core dog rescuer I am, it was so neat to just show up and see people come in from the neighborhood,” she said.
Dogs, like horses, are quadrupeds. That is to say, they have four rupeds, one at each corner, on which they walk.
~ Frank Muir, English comedy writer