Special Sections : West Fire

Friday, Jul 30 2010 02:48 PM

Peck and dogs flee fire, return to former home

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Kimi Peck holds her 21-year-old companion Johnny, who is blind and otherwise disabled. She evacuated from Old West Ranch with her 32 dogs during the fire and is staying temporarily at the home on Bear Valley Springs Road from which she was evicted July 8.

Animal activist Kimi Peck has returned to her former home on Bear Valley Springs Road with 32 dogs - and she's there with the blessing of the woman who evicted her July 8.

“It's a temporary situation,” Peck said.

Los Angeles accountant Susan Marlowe owns the home.

Peck and Marlowe, estranged by recent events and drawn together by the fire, conversed amicably at the property July 29.

Peck had been staying at a friend's property at Old West Ranch with her dogs when the West fire erupted, forcing her to evacuate. She and an employee loaded the crated animals into their vehicles.

“We did all we had to do to keep them alive,” she said.

The fire destroyed all the structures on the property, she said.

Two of her dogs were terrified, pulled out of their collars and got away, she said.

When she was allowed back into the burn area she was not able to locate the dogs, which are part Saluki and part Border Collie.

She said neighbors heard them barking the night before but they were silent when she was searching.

Peck said she had been living in her vehicle and a big 5th wheel since the eviction and had been at Old West Ranch for five days when the fire burned through the rugged, fuel-rich area July 27.

By means of two e-mail messages, Peck informed Marlowe that she had returned to the house from which Marlow had evicted her.

“There is a big fire in Tehachapi,” Peck wrote to Marlowe after arriving at the house. “I had taken the dogs up to Old West Ranch to stay on a property…It burned down tonight. The dogs I managed to get out in my van have smoke inhalation…I had nowhere to take them. I crawled through the doggie door in the warehouse and put them in there. There was nowhere else to go.”

Marlowe said she locked onto the dogs-in-distress message of the e-mails and missed the part about Peck returning.

“It wasn't until hours later that I realized she was here,” Marlowe said at house July 29.

“She didn't answer,” Peck said. “I thought sure a deputy would show up and arrest me for trespassing.”

Marlowe evicted Peck because of heavy fines looming for both of them from Kern County in connection with the presence of so many dogs and no kennel license.

Two hundred dogs were removed from the property and sent to various rescues and shelters July 8.

She was able to keep some of the animals.

County Animal Control Director Guy Shaw, on hand in Tehachapi with a crew of his officers and trucks to assist in rescuing animals from the West fire, stopped by the Bear Valley Road house July 28.

“He couldn't believe it,” Peck said.

Shaw told The Bakersfield Californian he checked on the welfare of the 32 dogs he found on the property and they were safe, fed and had access to water.

Kern County Engineering, Survey and Permit Services Director Chuck Lackey told The Californian that Peck's animals are still in violation of county land use laws, but Marlowe has petitioned the county to issue a conditional use permit that would provide an exemption to those rules for her property.

Marlowe's petition goes to the Kern County Planning Commission for review on Aug. 12, Lackey said.

Lackey said that Marlowe asked him to allow Peck to stay on the property for a short time, given the tragedy that occurred in Old West Ranch.

Peck said she would leave the Bear Valley Springs Road home when a workman has finished retrofitting a large 5th wheel to accommodate her dogs as they travel. The project is well under way.

Peck's blind 21-year-old Chihuahua, whose tongue hangs out and whose nose is bent, remains her constant companion.

“Johnny is still alive during all of this” she wrote to Marlowe. “Miracle.”

Californian reporter James Burger contributed to this report.

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