Colorado pets airlifted to safety

National Guard evacuates over 800 cats and dogs from floodwaters
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Catastrophic flooding brought on by heavy rains ravaged some 200 miles of northern Colorado this past September. At least eight people were killed in the deluge that spanned 17 counties. Floodwaters, landslides, and mudslides damaged or destroyed over 18,000 homes and hundreds of miles of highway, and washed away 50 bridges.

Federal urban search and rescue team members in Boulder, Colo., work their way across a river to search a home, using poles to help find hazards in the water as they cross. ( Photo by Michael Rieger/FEMA)

As much as 20 inches of rain fell from Sept. 9-15 in an area several times larger than Los Angeles. President Barack Obama declared the situation a major disaster and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

Tens of thousands of residents in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains were evacuated along with their pets.

Over time, the National Guard transported a total of 816 cats and dogs by helicopter to Boulder Municipal Airport or the National Guard Armory in Fort Collins and then to local shelters, according to Debrah Schnackenberg, director of disaster services for PetAid Colorado, which coordinates the state emergency response for pets and service animals.

At its peak, the population of pets temporarily housed at area animal shelters numbered as high as 600, Schnackenberg said. The Colorado Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps was deployed in support of the evacuation efforts, she added.

The flooding is said to be the worst to have occurred in Colorado in a generation. Damages are estimated at over a billion dollars.

Members of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps and Boulder County Sheriff’s Department with an evacuated pet (Photo courtesy of PetAid Colorado)

Dr. Matthew Rooney estimates the damage to his clinic at around $250,000. He owns Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists, a 24-hour specialty emergency hospital in Longmont, 15 miles northeast of Boulder and about a half mile from the St. Vrain River, which overran its banks on Sept. 11.

“We had about 15 patients, five of which were very critical,” Dr. Rooney said. “We got all of them out, and as they’re pulling out with the last patient, 2 feet of water hit the clinic.”

“We had an emergency evacuation plan, and it was just amazing how well the staff handled the situation,” he said. Within 10 days of the evacuation, the clinic was up and running following extensive repairs, including drywall and tile replacement.

“We’re so far from the river, it quite honestly wasn’t on my mind to get flood insurance,” Dr. Rooney added.

Dr. Rooney plans on applying for a grant from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation for veterinary practices damaged during a disaster. As of mid-October, the AVMF had received three grant applications for disaster relief from Colorado practices, although more are expected.