It takes hard work to care for large animals. Jared Wolf and Kelley Duggan know that all too well

Growing up in rural southern Oregon, Wolf raised pigs through Future Farmers of America in his youth, rising at dawn to feed them and tending them throughout the day. Duggan, who was born into a Oregon ranching family, put in countless hours raising market pigs, breeding cattle, and showing horses.

Today, as ag science majors and members of the Chico State Livestock Judging Team, they compete across the nation, evaluating heifers, steer, and other animals in academic contests.

The team was in the midst of extensive practice and competition preparation when the Camp Fire broke out, displacing more than 50,000 people. As news media showed hundreds of cows, horses, goats, and other large animals that had also been evacuated, Wolf decided to take the team’s conversations about wanting to help to the next level.

“I’m not from California by any means, but we are all people at the end of the day and I was looking for a way to help,” said Wolf, a first-semester transfer student. “As a college student, I’m financially not able to donate a bunch of money, but I can sure donate my time.”

When coach and faculty member Clay Carlson gave the team a day off, Wolf rallied the group and a few of their friends. Together, they caravanned to the large animal shelter at Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley to do what they could.

“I remember on the drive down how shocking it was to see how close the fire got to town, how it got so close to the ‘Welcome to Chico’ sign on 99 and burned on both sides. You could see where the backfires were to help stop it,” Duggan said.

A donkey peers through a gate.

Donkeys are among the many kinds of large displaced animals sheltering at the Butte County Fairgrounds. (Photo courtesy of North Valley Animal Disaster Group)

The volunteers’ arrival at the fairgrounds was equally eerie and mournful, as they saw a number of animals that had suffered burns or injuries in the fire or trying to escape, Wolf said. To bolster their spirits, the team went to work cleaning pens and feeding the donkeys, llamas, and cows from the truckloads of grain and hay that had been donated.

“I was raised that you give your animals the best life you can because they are giving you the biggest sacrifice,” Wolf said. “I was raised to treat animals with the most respect possible. Those animals are not able to get out. To help them, I think can be overlooked. They have needs, too.”

After years working one-on-one with livestock, Duggan said that after days of despair, she found comfort in giving the large animals the care they need.

“They have personalities just like we do,” she said. “Some were just fine, they were happy as clams. Others you could tell were not happy to be there. It was not home and their person was not there.”

A few gave her wary side-eyed glances as she cleaned their pens, but a few were hungry for attention and she let them nuzzle her hands and rubbed their necks while talking to them.

“Instead of sitting there and thinking about the situation, I was able to do something to improve it, even if it was something small,” Duggan said. “Chico is a new home for a lot of us, and I love Chico just like I love home.”

For Wolf, helping evacuees—animal or otherwise—was a way to express his gratitude for his welcome into this community.

“The ag program has been so welcoming and supportive of everything I want to do, and all my professors have been very eager to help me during office hours, I quickly got the feeling that you help everybody out, especially in Chico,” he said.