Written By: Lauren Yang Brown 

An orange-tinged sky glowed from behind the blinds. Katie Lively, who lived in the Upper Camp Creek area, received a warning about heavy winds and smoke heading her way the day before. As she went through her morning routine, about to head to her second day of work at the animal shelter she had volunteered at for seven years, she noticed two of her cats’ behavior. They were pacing back and forth, hiding under a table and swatting and hissing at each other. The cats knew something was wrong. 

A couple of hours later, Lively brought her three cats and three kittens to Greenhill Humane Society, the only animal shelter in Eugene and Springfield and her new workplace, moments before she received her Level 3 evacuation order for the Holiday Farm Fire. While Lively and her family evacuated, they had peace of mind knowing that their animals were safe. The next day, she received a text message from her coworker with a photo of one of her cats, Peanut, with the caption, “Hi Mom!” 

Greenhill Humane Society has provided multiple essential services and resources for the people and animals of Lane County during the pandemic and the Oregon wildfires. Throughout the multiple disasters, the animal shelter provided more resources for the animals of Lane County than ever before. Through all of this, Greenhill Humane Society never closed.

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Behavior Coordinator Lauren Rubin brings Missy,a 10-year-old mastiff who was surrendered to Greenhill after her owner passed away,outside to get some training and socialization. Rubin says that cuddling with the dogs is her favorite part of her job. “It is part of their mental well-being to get attention and so training them is really fun but cuddling them is definitely the most important part,” Rubin says.

“There was a moment of ‘nothing is okay right now,’ and yet I somehow feel like things are going to be okay because I have a team of people who care about me and care about my cats,” Lively says. “It’s incredible to have people that have your back in times like that.” 

Megan Brezovar, Greenhill’s events and community engagement manager, describes people coming to the shelter with their animals, covered in ash, not knowing where to go. At one point, the shelter had over 100 evacuated animals under its care. Many are still being cared for at the shelter now. The shelter has also been working directly with fire resource centers around Lane County to make sure the centers are stocked with pet supplies and food. 

“We found that when the pandemic began, a lot of people fell on financial hardships, so we really tried to ramp up our community pet food bank,” Brezovar says.

Due to the fires, Greenhill also began delivering pet food, kitty litter and other supplies to Food for Lane County. The shelter handed out over seven tons of pet food from March to May, which is as much as they gave out in all of 2019. When the Holiday Farm Fire began on Sept. 7 and throughout the week, Greenhill passed out over 13 tons of pet food.

“The need really skyrocketed starting with the pandemic and again with the fires,” Brezovar says. “Since the fires, we have also been ramping up our crisis care program.” 

The animal shelter’s crisis care program provides housing for animals whose owners are in situations such as being incarcerated, hospitalized, in an environment of domestic violence or otherwise enduring financial hardships. Owned animals that the shelter houses are never put up for adoption unless the animal is properly surrendered. The crisis care program housed animals whose owners were displaced or had evacuated from the Oregon fires that began in early September. 

Greenhill also worked with the Oregon Humane Society, the largest humane society in the Northwest, during the fires. The Oregon Humane Society took multiple adoptable animals from Greenhill Humane Society to ensure there was enough space at the shelter to house the evacuated animals. 

“We’ve been housing owned, evacuated animals under our care since the fires, and those animals will remain under our care until their families get back on their feet financially,” Brezovar says. 

Greenhill changed operations to accommodate the pandemic. Adoptions could only be made with an appointment, and volunteer opportunities ceased. Due to the personal protective equipment shortage in the first few months of the pandemic, the shelter was unable to perform any elective or non-urgent surgeries.

Sasha Elliot, Greenhill’s director of operations, says that owners who adopted animals during the shortage received a voucher to come back for their animal’s spay or neuter surgery once Greenhill was able to resume non-urgent surgeries. Greenhill Humane Society was able to find homes for 178 animals between March 19 and May 1.

Brezovar says the main reason the shelter was able to provide so much food to victims of the fires and the pandemic was because of community donations. When the staff at Greenhill realized the magnitude and longevity of the pandemic, the shelter’s two biggest fundraisers were cancelled. The staff began to work tirelessly to find grants and reach out to donors. 

As news of Greenhill’s work during the Oregon fires spread, the organization began receiving donations from people across the country, such as from Hawaii and New York. Brezovar describes local companies in Lane County driving to the shelter to provide pallets of pet food, local residents bringing donations, people throughout Oregon driving through the fires to help hand out food and even those who’d lost their jobs to the pandemic asking how they could help. 

“We realized our needs, we put it out on social media and we had a literal train of cars filled with supplies to give to their fellow humans that were in need,” Brezovar says. “If there’s a silver lining in any disaster, it’s the outpouring of support in our community and the love for animals in our community.”