Aided by donations and community hustle, the Cow Palace rallied on short notice to house over 200 local animals displaced by the nearby fires.
Petunia was feeling anxious.
And she wasn’t shy about vocalizing it either. If anyone got within 20 yards of her, she’d let loose a continuous series of uniquely pig-like barks and snorts, even as the other hogs nearby just lay languid in the hay.
In another pen, an all-white peacock moved about with its own skittishness. Same for the horses in the parking lot who were proving reluctant to be coaxed into a trailer by their handlers.
“It’s been stressful, not just for the owners but the animals, as well,” said Li Westerlund, a Half Moon Bay resident who had two horses evacuated from their proximity to the fires.
That nervousness and sense of displacement was indeed palpable with many of the different animals being temporarily sheltered at the Cow Palace in the wake of the CZU Lightning Complex fires. (Though at the same time, not all of them were bothered by the move: the sheep appeared utterly indifferent, the goats merely curious at who was passing by, the llamas seemed to be having a blast and that white peacock’s female mate was just taking it all in stride.)
“It is quite a menagerie of animals,” remarked Lori Marshall, CEO of the Cow Palace.
For the past week, the 79-year-old “Palace for Cows” in Daly City has served as an emergency evacuation center for assorted livestock that have been displaced by the wildfires. The facility has now housed more than 200 animals, ranging from baby chicks to Andalusian horses. It’s a fitting assignment for the veteran venue, which was originally built in 1941 for hosting livestock shows, rodeos and other animal-oriented events, such as the circus.
Yet even with the know-how and a baseline infrastructure, the staff at the Cow Palace had to hustle on short notice as the county informed them of their designation as an evacuation site on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 19, with the prospect of animals arriving the very next day (which they did). In the short term, the effort relied heavily on volunteers and donations while official supplies were en route. The list of needs was long and specific: hay, medication, buckets, wheelbarrows…not to mention temporary pens and stables.
The Cow Palace’s maintenance staff swiftly assembled the temporary rodeo pens that they had on hand. Meanwhile, their PR team put out a call for donations and quickly got an influx of basic supplies. When it came to the more nuanced specifics—certain types of feed, shavings—Peninsula locals rose to the occasion.
“Our immediate community is not agriculturally educated,” Lori explains, “and they still were saying, ‘I’ll go get that, but you need to tell me what it is and where to get it.’”
The evacuation center quickly came together, erecting more than 300 temporary stalls for the horses and making use of the Cow Palace’s last remaining permanent pens for the cattle. Much of the livestock was brought in late last week and through the weekend by the San Mateo County Large Animal Evacuation Group, which employed 20 trucks and trailers to travel to farms and ranches for pickup throughout the region at the request of owners.
By the end of this past weekend, the Cow Palace was hosting over 200 animals. ID cards affixed to the pen kept meticulous track of feeding schedules and veterinarian visits. Media, volunteers and horse handlers buzzed about the parking lot where the stables were established.
As some animals begin to make their way home this week, Marshall points out that over 17 California fairgrounds are currently serving as emergency and evacuation facilities, even as their revenue has drastically fallen off this year in the face of the COVID pandemic (and the subsequent cancellation of county fairs).
“The Cow Palace is a part of the Western Fairs Association network,” Marshall says, “and this role as an emergency center is a huge part of the importance of fair grounds.”
Back in the Pavilion where the goats, sheep and llamas are held, Petunia began to seem less anxious. Marshall, who was a week into overseeing a vast cross section of tasks at the site—handling media, organizing volunteers and much more—picked up a long-handled brush and began to scratch Petunia’s belly while also fielding a call. Petunia soon wound down on all her anxious snorts and just settled quietly into the hay.
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