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Animals find refuge at fairgrounds

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HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — The Murphy kids — Heather, 10, Chris, 12, and Matt, 9 — showed up with a brown grocery bag half full of pellets.

"For the rabbits," said Dawn Palin, their mother. "We've got a rabbit at home."

Gary Wiley squeezed his face up tight and tried not to choke up as he thanked them.

It was another small contribution in a flood of help for the animal refugees from the fires ravaging the Bitterroot Valley in southwestern Montana. The human refugees go to Westview Junior High School across town. The animal refugees come to the Ravalli County Fairgrounds to Wiley and his staff of six.

By the time the Murphy children arrived Thursday, it had already been an emotional day for Wiley: The fair board voted to cancel the county fair, only three weeks away. Among the many reasons was the need to shelter homeless animals on the fairgrounds.

The pellets were welcome: There were 46 rabbits in the Small Animals Building. Elsewhere on the fairgrounds Thursday were 20 cats, 17 dogs, 92 chickens, 54 goats, 68 horses, 11 quail, 13 ducks, seven dairy calves and four pigs.

Wiley knows there will be more. People who wait until the last minute are risking their animals' lives. So far, only a few have come in with burns.

The rescue effort needs only more animals, Wiley said. Individuals, organizations and businesses have contributed more than enough food and equipment and will give more if asked. Dane Dugan, who's sleeping in the fair office during the crisis, has compiled a database of donors and offers.

Donations so far totaled 30 tons of hay for the livestock, 4,000 pounds of other feed and 42 pans for small animals to eat out of.

Three women who run the Medicine Wheel Ranch Bed and Breakfast near Victor didn't wait until fire threatened.

"We've heard stories of people having to pull bags and blankets over their horses' heads (because they were so frightened), and we didn't want to have to do that," said Sharon Flying Up, who helped bring three horses, three dogs and four cats to the safety of the fairgrounds.

In the paddock beyond the grandstands, a 3-year-old gray Arabian mare named Angel was prancing circles at the end of an exercise rope for Jeri Kirk.

"She's showing off for a man," Kirk laughed, pointing to three horses across the way.

Kirk and neighbor Carol Dutton brought several horses to the fairgrounds but left cats and numerous cages of birds with friends. Kirk put her three dogs at the nearby Humane Society shelter.

"I originally got 'em there, so they're actually home there visiting," she said.