Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Story Vault

By Audrey Fraizer

A Springer spaniel named Joe was likely enjoying his early evening romp of amazing smells at Jonesville Park in Gainesville, Fla., when quite by accident he triggered a response focusing on the flexibility of Fire Protocol.

“They [Joe and his owner] were out walking and Joe disappeared down a hole,” said EMD Shanteria Whitehead, of the Alachua County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Department. “The owner was frantic.”

Whitehead, who had been at the job for about 15 months, coded the call as an animal problem, although the call—the first of its kind made to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Department—was later upgraded to an entrapment, alerting the fire department that its assistance was needed. Joe had plunged 50 feet into darkness and there was no luring him out of the hole by waving teriyaki jerky to stimulate a four-paw power climb. Joe was up against a relatively smooth limestone wall.

“The fire department contacted the rescue team and one of its vets went down the hole for the rescue,” Whitehead said. “Joe was fine.”

This was no ordinary vet meeting in company with Alachua County firefighters. Roger M. Clemmons, DVM, is specifically trained to rescue and treat animals in situations gone awry. He was among the team coming to the aid of a trail horse named Midnight bogged down in mud during a December 2011 ride. He was also the vet lowered down a 35-foot sinkhole to rescue two cows and a 15-foot well to rescue a stranded calf.

“I said ‘Moo’ and the calf gave a ‘Moo’ back,” Clemmons said. “The calf actually did very well on its way out.”

While the calf needed light sedation to attach the harness and steady the roped ascent, the 60-pound Joe was good to go without the syringe.

Clemmons said Joe was “a nice dog,” and seemed to understand the submissive attitude necessary to get him out of the deep mess he had accidentally created. Joe was fitted into the harness and clipped into an “O” ring fixed on the harness Clemmons was wearing. Firefighters and the University of Florida Animal Technical Rescue Team, all trained in technical rescue, pulled Joe and Clemmons to the surface using a technical rope rescue system.

“Joe acted like he knew what he was doing,” Clemmons said. “That and having a great team around me made my job a lot easier.”

Joe came through with only a few tender spots resulting from the fall, a temporary loss of appetite—he snubbed the chicken nuggets Clemmons brought along for the ride—and with, perhaps, a better appreciation to watch the ground he’s sniffing. The park district filled the hole the same evening, which in a way is a credit to Joe’s roving instincts.

“It’s lucky Joe found the hole for us and not a child,” said Clemmons, a veterinarian for the Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service (VETS), developed by the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

Clemmons is an animal lover. He is an associate professor for the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Florida, specializing in small animal neurosurgery, and would drop just about anything to aid an animal in crisis.

“I was home working on income taxes when I took the call about Joe,” he said. “We didn’t have much time since it was heading toward dark, but Joe was still moving.”

Clemmons’ first call for rescue occurred eight years earlier and from CVM Director of Medical/Health Administration John Haven, who was in charge of deploying a patient (animal) care team in response to Hurricane Charley.

“We set up a MASH-type hospital and volunteers treated animals people brought in from the storm,” Clemmons said.

After Charley, came Frances and then Jeanne. The results of their animal disaster response during that one hurricane season so impressed the Florida Veterinary Medical Association and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that Haven added a new calling to his card.

“We had done such a good job winging it, we were given the job,” said Haven, a CPA with a professional administrative background.

During the past eight years, VETS has grown into one of the largest non-federal animal disaster response teams in the United States, providing self-contained veterinary care triage for predominantly small animals and advanced technical rescue for large animals. Funded through grants and donations, VETS can deploy up to 17 people in response to local and national disasters and operates a fully-equipped mobile veterinarian’s office, three pick-up trucks, and two equipment trailers.

The team is a core component of the State Agricultural Response Team and can be deployed to other states during a Federal Declaration.

VETS volunteers take technical courses geared for human rescue and adapt the strategies to animal rescue. They’ve trained members of similar organizations and Haven was recently appointed chair of a task group drafting an animal rescue standard for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

“That’s what I get for going to the meeting,” Haven said. “Seriously, VETS has been a lot of extra work, but tremendously rewarding. It’s a good buzz handing back to owners an animal we’ve rescued.”

And don’t think that Joe’s rescue was the last thought EMD Whitehead’s given to dogs.

“I want a Yorkshire terrier,” Whitehead said. “I’ve been looking at the newspaper ads because I really want a dog now.”