Kirkwood's Ark

In the foyer of Kirkwood’s Animal Health building, it is a scene of day-glo gridlock, a menagerie of humans and animals, all swirling in tightening circles. The plastic-coated official badges meld with hastily written paper name tags. Faces of all ages, sizes and backgrounds move in a busy bustle. The common denominator of this unlikely band is animal rescue. On this Monday afternoon, the pace is picking up.

Scratch the surface of this T-shirted lot and you’ll find Cedar Rapids Animal Control officers, a local firefighter and dozens of Kirkwood Animal Health and Vet Tech students. Amid it all is a calming presence in the controlled chaos. A lithe, close-cropped brunette in a white lab coat directs the caring choreography.

Animal Health Professor Anne Duffy alternately pats backs and points fingers, gathers data and directs traffic. On a “normal day” at Kirkwood she would counsel a few dozen students, attend to a few dozen animal questions.

This is no normal day. Her hometown is the subject of world-wide attention and a torrent of sympathy and support directed to her concrete animal education bunker. Cedar Rapids, Iowa is the lead story on the news networks, above-the-fold copy for USA Today and the New York Times. The floods of 2008 have come, outstripping 100 and 500-year theories of where a river would call home. There was no stopping a wall of water a dozen feet higher than any hydrologist’s nightmare, uprooting railway bridges full of boxcars and inundating 1300 blocks of Iowa’s second largest city.

Duffy’s world is now swollen with the homeless creatures of Cedar Rapids. Clutched next to her white coat is today’s tally, written in black, overwritten in red. Arrows point to the rising tide of the new animal homeless:

Monday, 6/16–
309 canines
222 felines
15 birds
18 rodents
4 lizards
4 ferrets

Her saved animal tally now approaches 600, the incoming numbers easily overtaking the few joyous reunions from relieved humans with their pets. …

Duffy chuckles away a tear as she relates a middle-aged couple who fretted over what they thought was a lost dog, only to be brought back together when Cedar Rapids firefighters did a re-check of their downtown high-rise apartments.
“It was beautiful when those two got their little dog back. We’ve been joking that we need a little bell to ring here when we score a reunion,” she recalled.

This Monday the ranks of animal caregivers gets a boost from the volunteers of the United Animal Nations (UAN). The California-based animal protection group was rallied by the first word of the impending floods. Organizer Diann Wellman is another active presence in the center, her bright red T-shirt directing help and thanking gifts and volunteers.

According to Wellman, UAN’s emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) program boasts 4,000 volunteers and is “growing all the time” in the U.S, and Canada. “We have about 15 volunteers here today and more could come later,” she reckons. He arms form widening concentric rings as she describes “starting close-by and opening up the call wider as we need more people.” By tonight the UAN helpers will hail from her home state of Indiana plus Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and many points in Iowa.

Wellman has high praise for the Kirkwood rescue effort, put in motion when the Cedar Rapids Animal Control headquarters was overcome by rising Cedar River waters. “My initial impression is ‘Wow’ to these resources here! We never get facilities this practical and nice in our rescue projects. This is not typical at all, this is wonderful.”

Wellman got to Cedar Rapids just as the flood waters began to swamp the city, part of the PetSmart Charities Emergency Relief Waggin’. As the full toll of animal peril became apparent, the United Animal Nations support kicked in, Wellman’s T-shirt uniform shifting from PetSmart blue to EARS red. She and her volunteer team will spend nights and days in their own rescue mission digs, sleeping on collapsible cots between volunteer shifts.

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The UAN crew is joined by other volunteers from the Humane Society of the United States and a wider sweep of Kirkwood students, faculty, counselors plus the crowd of people who “just wanted to help.”

A mother and son duo bursts into the organizers’ command center hefting a black trash bag with tell-tale pet food bulges. “Here’s some food for the animals. We want to help ‘em out,” the son offers. Duffy and Wellman say their thanks and direct them to a table already stacked with food, shampoos and treats.

“That has been going on for days, and it’s wonderful,” Duffy offers. She re-adjusts the slippery plastic bounty on the table. “We now have plenty of food, plenty of supplies. The things we need now are cat little boxes. Little litter boxes. Ones that will fit into these cat cages. It’s pretty basic needs to keep ahead of all our little buddies coming in.”

Even as the floodwaters recede and the river slightly calms, the flow of pets continues. Duffy says the continued work of local rescue workers and law enforcement keeps bringing them in. “People are reporting animals trapped in houses and the ones that escaped when their owners had to leave in a hurry. They just keep coming and we find places for them.”

The numbers have risen by a couple hundred legs and wings in the past 24 hours alone. They move from carriers to cages by way of an especially busy back room at the college animal lab. Behind the foyer full of volunteers and anxious, hopeful pet owners you enter a whirlpool of activity.

This is the mini-drama of the veterinary care room, ER as re-imagined by Animal Planet. Students hold an excited dog while another holds an ID information card and a third takes a photo for records. Other caring pairs perform examinations, inoculations and hygiene checks. Vet tech students earn on-the-spot internship time with efficient young women with “DVM” stitched in their scrubs. Syringes move expertly, delivering rabies vaccine to dozens of dogs and cats each hour.

After the speedy once-overs, other volunteers transport them to more Kirkwood Ag Science buildings re-assigned to the menagerie’s care. The Iowa Equestrian Center’s warm-up area and stall barns usually hold the pride of Midwest show horses. This week it’s Dog Town, the horse stalls doing duty for much smaller guests. Across the parking lot, it’s the same flexibility as the Tippie Beef Center switches from cattle to cats and dogs. The numbers keep growing and somehow Kirkwood Ag Science people find room for more.

Back at the animal rescue headquarters room, Diann Wellman shakes her head and smiles again. “We appreciate all the support the college has made available. There’s no way we could do this much without this great cooperation. My other volunteers and I talked yesterday and said this is the Ritz of the animal rescue world.”

Anne Duffy smiles at the comment, pats Wellman on the back—and melts into the fray. Neon-colored T-shirts surround her with questions and pink phone message slips. Above Duffy’s head in her cramped office hangs a simple sign in bold letters: