By Tibby Lerner
Special to the Herald
Local artist Gaul Culley woke up the first night of the Wine Country fires back in October, knowing that something was terribly wrong. She smelled the smoke and turned on the TV, watching coverage of the events as they unfolded.
She fell asleep after hours of watching the news. She dreamed about the fire that night. It seemed to be reaching out for the fleeing animals, as if the fire had hands. She knew she had to do something to help out.
The Solano Fairgrounds were opened up to house hundreds of large animals endangered by the fires. Culley volunteered to document the animals as they came in and eventually to make sure that the animals went home with their rightful owners. Her first shift was 37 hours straight.
Culley was extremely moved by her 12 days with the animals. She began painting with passion about her experiences.
“It was partly cathartic,” she said about the pieces she created, “and partly to honor the animals and their owners. Some animals came in with phone numbers spray painted on their sides, and some with identification on bits of paper attached to their bridles. Many of them had no identifying marks on them at all.”
There was no time to lose in getting the animals to safety. Some of the animals had just been let loose by their owners to run and were brought in by helpful strangers. One ranch brought in 40 horses for safe-keeping and others brought in cows, llamas, goats, sheep, donkeys chickens and pigs.
When asked how she knew which animals belonged to which people when they came to pick them up, Culley had some amazing stories to tell. “It was a very emotional process,”she said. “Sometimes when the owners walked up, the horses just knew and they screamed out from their pens.”
One story involved three donkeys that had to be coaxed into their trailer by their favorite food: tortillas.
There was also a pig named Daisy that loved to curl up in her favorite blanket that was given to comfort her by a volunteer.
Culley is showing her paintings of the horses at the HQ Gallery, located at 333 First St. in Benicia. She is donating half the proceeds from the sale of the paintings to Hold Your Horses, one of the organizations that risked their lives by going into the fire areas to capture and transport these animals to the Solano County Fairgrounds. Her images are about the relationships: “the people, the animals and the land. The horses, when they’re running free, are just like the spirit of the fire, she said.”
The group “Hold Your Horses” helps a lot of people and animals.
“I want them to be able to continue their work,” Culley said. “This experienced crew not only went into the fires to save the animals, but also helped get them back home safely.”
“The organization helped a man who saved an older horse,” she added. “His was the second home the man had lost; first the Lake Fires two years ago, and now the fire in Napa. Hold Your Horses helped him and his horse move into his new place.”
Hold Your Horses Livestock Emergency Response Team is a community team based in Contra Costa County and surrounding areas who provide assistance to those in need during times of disasters. They are a community of skilled and experienced volunteers and livestock owners, who offer emergency transportation, sheltering and livestock supplies, not limited to equine. They offer the option to ranchers, horse owners, stables and rescue organizations to use our_services at their discretion & are not liable for any unintended injury, accident or miscommunication that could arise. Hold Your Horses is a non profit 501(c)3, that depends on donations from the public so we may provide transportation, feed and supplies to livestock during and after disasters. HYH also responds to calls for assistance during disaster from The Sheriff’s Department and Animal Control.
Culley urges everyone to make a difference by giving back.
“Volunteer, help raise money, whatever you can do,” she said. The recovery is just now beginning.”
Those wishing to donate to Hold Your Horses Livestock Emergency Response Team can contact Chantel Tieman at (925) 584-1976 or by email at email@example.com.