Dr. Saralynn Specht
Just a year after assisting animal relief efforts during the Santa Rosa Fires while an associate at a group practice in Sonoma County, Calif., Dr. Saralynn Specht found history repeating itself in November 2018.
Dr. Specht moved to Butte County, Calif., last May to start her own large animal mobile practice while also working part time at a small animal clinic to help fund her business. As her client roster expanded, the Camp Fire ignited in early November in what would become the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.
When hearing that horses were being evacuated to the Butte County Fairgrounds, just four miles from her residence, Dr. Specht drove to the fairgrounds to examine its new residents. The fairgrounds soon became a major evacuation center for animals in peril and remained in that capacity until January. To the potential detriment of her growing solo practice, Dr. Specht suspended her business to shoulder a full-time volunteer role triaging and caring for evacuated animals, which numbered hundreds of horses, chickens, goats and sheep, as well llamas, alpacas, pigs and water fowl.
“It was hard,” she said. “I canceled all my appointments and pretty much let my business just tank. There was a time when I thought I made a huge mistake moving here and doing this. I had already bought all my equipment to set up my practice and I just let it go until I started back up in January when I could take appointments.”
Working around her schedule at the small animal clinic, Dr. Specht checked the evacuated animals in the mornings before returning in early afternoon and often working late into the evening treating facial and foot burns, trauma wounds, colic and dehydration. Severe cases were triaged and sent to UC Davis for treatment before returning to the fairgrounds for recovery. She even rehomed a severely burned goat for owners who lost everything in the fire.
“It was wonderful to meet the owners of these animals when we were able to reunite everybody,” she said.
“Hearing these people’s stories, it really touches you. They’ve lost everything else but for them to find their animal, it means so much to them. I think it gave the community a sense that plenty of people care for them.”
Beyond providing compassionate care, Dr. Specht also worked with local home improvement stores to donate plywood, gates and other necessities; persuaded several farmers to donate their utility vehicles so volunteers could move around the fairgrounds faster; and established a GoFundMe that raised more than $2,000 for a gasoline generator. She distributed remaining funds to several families who needed money for a place to stay.
Dr. Specht is quick to acknowledge those who ran the evacuation site; her many fellow volunteers; veterinary companies that donated medication and supplies; and the Northern California Association of Equine Practitioners, which established a volunteer schedule to relieve the heavy burden on Dr. Specht and another veterinarian who had been working at the fairgrounds every day the first few weeks of the disaster.
“Many of us volunteered at various times, but Dr. Specht gave generously of her time when others, including myself, could not,” said Dr. Sarah McCarthy, who nominated Dr. Specht for the Good Works honor. “When others did not come for their shifts, she filled in. If there were emergencies when no one else was there, she was available.”