Lisa and Mark Tipton didn’t want to take a chance. They knew that, high on a hill in Acton, Calif., they were probably safe from the wildfire raging all around them.
But then, over the weekend, they saw flames blowing their way from the monstrous “sand fire” that Friday had savaged more than 58 square miles of dry brush and temporarily displaced about 20,000 people in Santa Clarita.
“We didn't want to take a chance on floating embers 'cause all it takes is one to light this whole place up,” Lisa Tipton told ABC News.
Tipton and her husband had something especially precious to protect: The 45 dogs they have rescued and cared for through Deaf Dog Rescue of America.
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“We knew if we had an issue in the middle of the night, (we) would be here alone with 45 dogs to load up,” she wrote on the rescue group’s Facebook page. “Not a can-do.”
She got on the phone and called dozens of places, she told ABC, until she found the only place that agreed to give all the dogs temporary shelter: The California State Prison - Los Angeles County, in Lancaster, Calif.
The prison has a Paws 4 Life program that matches inmates with dogs facing euthanasia at local shelters. The inmates, alongside professional trainers, work with the dogs to socialize them and teach them basic obedience to make them better candidates for adoption.
Tipton told ABC she knew her dogs “were in good hands” when she dropped them off at the prison, but the drop-off was still emotional.
“The dogs were bewildered and watched us walk out the gates,” she wrote on Facebook. “The looks on their faces made me cry when things quieted down and I had time to think about it. I have to admit that I felt guilty leaving them there.”
The next morning she went back to find that “the inmates had handled breakfast beautifully,” she told NBC Los Angeles.
“They were getting the dogs out for exercise and cleaning their runs … I have never, ever seen anyone clean up dog poop with such glee.”
She wrote on Facebook that the “dogs were thriving under their care and had wagging tails and smiles on their faces.
“Because most of our dogs are deaf, this has also been a fantastic learning experience for the inmates. A deaf dog's body language is much easier to read.”
The dogs and inmates will get to spend a few more days together as the wildfire, mostly contained by now, is brought under control.