Puppies Perish in California Blaze

Firefighters said the animals didn't suffer because they likely were overcome by carbon monoxide.


LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. --

More than three dozen animals -- many of them puppies -- died Thursday in a fire at a Lake Elsinore animal shelter.

The blaze at Animal Friends of the Valleys in the 29000 block of Bastron Street consumed part of the facility's "Puppy Trailer," a single-wide mobile home that housed 24 puppies and small dogs, as well as some cats, said shelter spokeswoman Becky Reeb.

"The firefighters said the animals would've passed out from the carbon monoxide," she said. "That's the only good thing -- that they would've died painlessly."

A shelter security guard detected smoke around 4:30 a.m. and dialed 911, Reeb said.

"He tried to get some animals out, but he couldn't," she said. "It was too much."

Riverside County fire crews arrived around 5 a.m. and had the fire under control within 20 minutes, said fire department spokeswoman Massiel De Guevara.

She identified the cause of the blaze as electrical.

"It looks like some kind of wiring malfunction near the air conditioning unit for that trailer," said Reeb.

Cages were stacked two to three high in the trailer, which was "filled to capacity," Reeb said.

In addition to puppies a few months old, fully grown smaller dogs, such as miniature Doberman Pincers, and several cats that had been rescued from an abusive owner perished in the fire, she said.

"The dogs were owner turn-ins or strays," the shelter spokeswoman said. "Our Himalayan cats had been here for several months. We were nursing them back to health."

She said the fire destroyed $35,000 worth of cages and equipment inside the trailer.

Reeb described the shelter's 32 employees as "very sad" over the animals' deaths, with a few seeking comfort from grief counselors at the facility Thursday.

No other animals at the kennel were harmed in the blaze, she said. A nearby cat trailer was untouched, and big dogs were pinned up out-of-doors at the time of the fire, she said.

Animal Friends of the Valleys contracts with surrounding cities -- including Canyon Lake, Lake Elsinore, Murrieta and Temecula -- as well as the Soboba Indian Reservation, providing recovery of stray animals, nuisance animals and abused pets, she said.

The facility also impounds some animals for the county and takes in a variety of small creatures, including chickens, ducks, rabbits and snakes, Reeb said.

The loss of the Puppy Trailer will mean a shortage of space at the animal shelter, and officials were looking to the public for help.

"Money, of course, will probably be the main thing," said Reeb. "But we're also looking for foster parents because we won't have anywhere to put our small dogs."

Foster parents could take animals home during the week and return them on weekends for the shelter's regular adoption events -- every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Petco in Temecula, 40474 Winchester Road, and Petsmart in Lake Elsinore, 29227 Central Ave.

Anyone interested in helping was encouraged to contact the shelter at 951-674-0618.