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Orphaned pets from Maui fire on their way to San Diego

A volunteer
Helen Woodward Animal Center
A volunteer holding a dog rescued from Maui as it arrives at San Diego International Airport, Aug. 22, 2023.

Starting Tuesday night, the Helen Woodward Animal Center will begin taking in 20 orphaned pets rescued from the deadly Maui fire.

In addition to helping the pets find homes on the mainland, the move will also free up shelter space in the hard-pressed Hawaiian animal shelters, a statement from the organization said.

"In the list of needs, the need for space is right at the top," Helen Woodward Animal Center VP of development Renee Resko said. "The island of Maui really has the world's heart right now and donations of food, vaccines and medical supplies are coming in. But the one thing you can't buy them is more space."


The Maui fire, fueled by hurricane winds, burned the Lahaina area on Aug. 8 and claimed the lives of at least 115 people, with 850 people still unaccounted for.

Hundreds of residents lost their homes, and families need temporary places to sleep and the comfort of knowing that their furry family members will be cared for until they have secured their next residence.

The Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation on the Island of Maui has been hard at work finding lost pets and providing comfort, care and supplies to those in need. The Woodward center has been working with partner organizations in Hawaii since 2018 and space has always been at a premium, officials said.

"The island shelters deal with a crucial issue we don't experience on the mainland," said LaBeth Thompson, Helen Woodward Animal Center pet acquisition manager. "Those islands are so small and their populations stay small, too. There simply aren't enough households so their orphan animals tend to stay in the system for a long time. We've been working with them for years to take in island cats and find them happy homes in California."

In the midst of the fire's destruction of life and property, the likelihood of animals being adopted from shelters on the island plummeted, Woodward center leaders said.


"When we asked what Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation needed, their number one focus was getting orphan pets to a location where they would have a chance at adoption," Resko said. "By doing this, we can help them access some much-needed space to help pet owners on the island. It's a win for the orphan pets and a win for the pets owned by Maui residents."

Alaska Airlines will use cargo planes providing essential supplies to the island to transport the pets back to the mainland over the next three evenings.

The Helen Woodward Animal Center is surprising the Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation with a monetary donation to help the organization continue its good work. Those who would like to donate to the organization can do so at the Hawaii Animal Rescue website.

The Maui arrivals will be available for adoption over the next few days and weeks, as they are medically cleared.

Those interested in adopting can visit or call (858) 756-4117, ext. 313.

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