CALISTOGA — Many people may know that Wine Country Animal Lovers is a no-kill haven, providing foster homes and adoption opportunities for animals in need.
What they might not know is that the volunteer-run organization, based in Calistoga, also serves as a resource hub for other animal rescue organizations across several Northern California counties.
WCAL was recently involved with the evacuation during the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, arranging transport for more than 6,000 animals, large and small, and helping find shelter and medical treatment.
During emergency situations WCAL volunteers provide limited on-the-ground help, but also equipment like handling crates. WCAL’s claim to fame is collaborating with other people and organizations, foster families and veterinarians.
“Though we are not necessarily in the field, I never got off the phone for three days (during the fire),” said Pam Ingalls, WCAL board president. “It’s still going on. It’s been quite an effort. We have an amazing network of other partners. We’re pretty good at pooling resources.”
WCAL’s profile in the region soared after the 2015 Valley Fire in Lake County, where the group acted as first responders, working with three other nonprofit rescues providing services for more than 1,000 animals, all while doing work they normally do.
Publicity from a story in People Magazine about their work during those fires helped boost WCAL’s reputation and funding.
The organization subsequently gave much of that funding to a cat rescue group in Santa Rosa. The group, formed by a group of about 40 volunteers, went around to burned-out neighborhoods after the 2017 Tubbs Fire, feeding and trapping cats. To date, about 300 cats have successfully been reunited with their owners.
“Calistoga has turned out to be a central (resource) location for the fires,” said Ingalls. “After the Tubbs Fire, we’ve kind of been the go-to location for help during and after the fires.”
For all that it does, WCAL does not have a facility and the organization is made up entirely of volunteers. It operates with a network of more than 90 private foster homes participating at any one time, spread out from Ukiah to Napa.
Dealing with animals that have been severely burned, otherwise injured, and/or lost can be emotionally difficult. But Ingalls says those who do the work have to be pragmatic.
“If we don’t do it, who will? What we do is save those we can. The rewards are the happy endings. Then we keep going,” she said.
Ingalls especially gives credit to those who foster animals.
“It’s a very selfless act to take an animal into your home and then let it go on to be adopted. Not everyone can let go. They become too attached.”
The majority of the organization’s efforts are focused in Lake County, which has a shelter with a high-kill rate, and a population where the median income is $22,000, Ingalls said.
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While caring for animals in need is integral to the operation, WCAL’s mission is also devoted to its spay and neuter program. WCAL was instrumental in getting Measure A passed in Napa County, to reduce euthanasia at the Napa County Animal Shelter. The board crafted a ballot initiative and worked with another local rescue to collect over 6,000 signatures in support.
WCAL got started in 2012 and has never had to say no to an animal in need.
Calistoga went a number of years without an animal control organization, while veterinarian Steve Franquelin was taking in as many animals as he could at his office. But the city eventually said enough is enough.
“Dr. Franquelin can’t say no to any animal,” Ingalls said.
Franquelin reached out to what turned out to be “A-type” personalities in the community, including Ingalls, Alissa McNair and Donna Leverenz. They formed a nonprofit in 2012 to support the work Franquelin was already doing.
Prior to WCAL, Ingalls spent more than 30 years in banking. She has a passion for dogs, and spent time at Bergin University in Sonoma. She is also on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of Calistoga and St. Helena. McNair serves on Calistoga’s Planning Commission.
The nonprofit is supported by numerous local businesses, with a yearly working budget of about $100,000 that comes from a very generous community, Ingalls said.
WCAL spends an average of $84 to help each animal in the program. Donations help cover medical costs, spay and neuter surgeries, transport, foster care, pet food and supplies.
Once taken in, a WCAL animal is in the family for life, and the organization will always take an animal back that was previously adopted.
The organization also offers fostering that pairs senior pets with senior citizens. All costs are covered by WCAL, which provides around-the-clock support and will readily take the animal back at any time for any reason.
The cost to adopt kittens and adult cats is $75. Adult dogs are $150. Puppies under 1 year are $300, with $150 refundable after completion of a training class. There is no charge for senior cats and dogs over 8 years old.
WCAL provides foster families with food, bedding and covers the animal’s medical costs.
Franquelin still provides medical services for the organization at a deeply discounted rate, Ingalls said.
At this time of year, when people might be thinking about giving a pet as a gift, it’s perfectly all right to do so, as long as the recipient knows in advance, and has talked about it, Ingalls said.
“Just don’t act on impulse. You want people to know they are getting one.”