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California Drought: Cotati Farm Rescuing Livestock Abandoned Due to Water Shortages

COTATAI (KPIX 5) -- The drought is affecting every part of Bay Area life in ways residents never could have imagined. But in rural Sonoma County, it's having a devastating impact on the region's farm animals.

The water shortage is leaving the animals' owners with a heart-breaking choice.

This is shaping up to be the driest August in Sonoma County history. The grass in the pastures is long gone. It may be farm country, but for many it has become a test of survival.

The land is parched and wells are beginning to run dry. It's not easy for Erica Gregory, but it is the reason she founded Flat Broke Farm Animal Rescue 16 years ago.

Extended interview with Flat Broke Farm's Erica Gregory:

"Not a day in my life have I seen people just crying over the fact that everything around them is dry and devastating," she said. "And that they're having to face potentially giving up some of their family members because they simply can't provide water."

The farm in Cotati has about 90 animals right now, most rescued from wildfire. The rescued animals include one celebrity: an immense 1,100 pound pig named Tickles who was featured in a children's book for saving a miniature pig in San Francisco (named Pickles, of course) with a blood transfusion.

But there is also a sweet-tempered goat named Marsha who was just surrendered because her owner's well ran dry. Gregory says when that happens, it seems like there's still water, but the pumps begin drawing up brackish water from the Bay.

"The animals smell the salts and everyone knows that salt water just makes you more dehydrated. So the animals refuse to drink it," Gregory explained.

The situation is becoming desperate. With no grass for grazing, people are turning in their animals, which can be tough enough when it has become a family pet.

"It's another thing to tell your 6-year old daughter who thinks that's her cow that she has to get rid of her cow. That's a whole different thing," said Gregory.

At least once a day, she is sent to collect an animal that has been put in someone else's pasture or even set free to wander in the street.

"I'm sad that the animal was abandoned," said Gregory, "And I'm angry because they didn't do a little bit of research and see that there's a ton of resources out there."

She said the Internet is full of non-profit rescue groups, many for specific kinds of animals. Flat Broke Farm, which operates on community donations, has lately been trucking water to people's homes so they can keep the animals on their own property.

It's tough work that Gregory does mostly alone, but she loves it. Still, she shudders to think what will happen if next year is dry as well.

"It is extremely terrifying to even comprehend if we have another dry year," Gregory said. "I don't know what that's going to do. That's going to be really different. But, everybody do their rain dance! Mother Nature will prevail and she's working her magic. She knows best."

Flat Broke Farm Animal Rescue has created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money specifically to deal with drought response. Parties interested in donating can find the GoFundMe page here.

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