Saving Pets at PetSmart after Roof Collapsed

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My morning routine was well, pretty routine on January 7, 2010.

I laid in bed watching the morning news as my better half showered and prepared to head to work for the day. Our morning alarm rings at 2:45am, so he can be to work by 3:45am. I watch national and local newscasts until 5:00am when I start my day as a freelance journalist.

Little did I know, that particular morning my writing would be put on hold.

On the News
Half awake, and half asleep, I watched the morning news anchor give a few details about a roof collapse that had occurred at a local business overnight. This news was not entirely surprising after 27-inches of snow blanketed the Northwest corner of Iowa just a week prior.

The footage showed the swirling lights of police cars illuminating a large building in the darkness of the early morning. My ears didn’t perk up until the reporter mentioned the business was PetSmart, one of the local pet superstores in Sioux City, Iowa.

The first image that popped into my mind was floppy eared pets with icicles dripping from their faces. I was now fully awake and ready to go do what I could to help evacuate those animals. But, then I remembered the waist-high snow drifts blocking the garage and how clearing snow would waste time.

Contacting Back-Up
So, I texted my friend and co-worker Bill. He is the assistant manager at my part-time evening job at Petco. Yes, Petco.

After an exchange of, “What happened? Really??!!” messages, he fired up his truck and drove a half hour to my house. We agreed we could use our knowledge of pet care to help rescue the animals from the store that now stood with a gaping sunroof and was flooding from burst water pipes in sub-freezing temperatures.

I just didn’t think firemen and police officers would know how to handle bearded dragons or care to make sure that guinea pigs were safe and warm. After all, they are accustomed to rescuing humans, not pets. But, I must admit, I was surprised and delighted at their genuine caring efforts when Bill and I arrived.

Arriving at PetSmart
After pulling into the store’s parking lot, we approached a group of firemen and asked what we could do to help. After determining the roof was secure, we were led inside. We walked through slushy ice water and offered to help. We were both stationed in the aquatics department and bagged fish as fast as humanly possible. The temperature was dropping quickly in the store and tropical fish aren’t fond of slushy water.

Bill took a moment to unthaw his wet hands and check on the animals that were moved to a backroom. He assured me they were dry and warm, so we continued to save fish, frogs and crabs. To some the life of these types of pets may seem minuscule, but to us, they deserved to be rescued too.

So, there we stood, in ankle deep slush water chatting with firemen that were looking forward to their shift change at 7:00am. But now, they stood next to me on their extended shift, learning how to bag fish. I gave them the pet store associate crash course. In just a few minutes they were adding Stress Coat to the fish bags and floating the bags in the warmest aquariums. In steady shifts the fish bags were transported to the warm vehicles waiting outside that would take the animals to local shelters.

In the News
Amid the flurry of rescue operations, I noticed one of the local television reporters kneeling in the slush to get a creative camera angle of the rescue efforts. In that split second I realized I was on the other side of the story. Weird. Since 1998, I have been the one looking for creative angles as a photojournalist. I was the one to track down the person in charge for a great quote when I was a newspaper reporter.

After the brief recognition of the tough job reporters face everyday, I turned back to the difficult task ahead of me. Remove as many pets as quickly as possible, so they have a chance to live.

I never did watch that news report to see if I could see myself on TV. I guess after so many years of sharing space with the television reporters and videographers, it’s not that exciting. We were both doing our jobs, period.

But, I will say, it was tough not to break into reporter mode. I didn’t gather any quotes. I didn’t have my camera with me. I didn’t have to ask the job titles of the rescue workers on the scene. I was on the other side of the story, and that was just fine with me.

Note: After receiving text messages and emails all morning asking “Did you hear about PetSmart?” I decided to write up a quick bare-bones news account after I returned home. I was able to reply with a quick “Yes, read this.”

Since the roof collapse seven weeks ago, Bill and I have received and appreciate the countless Thank You’s from PetSmart employees and Petco executives. We both know that any animal loving person (who was actually watching the news that early in the morning) would have done the same thing.

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