Burned: Veterinary practices up in flames

Burned: Veterinary practices up in flames

Three practitioners face lost homes and lives in wake of February fires
Apr 01, 2012

NATIONAL REPORT — Three veterinary practitioners are still coming to terms with loss from fires in February—one who lost a family business and nine animals, another who lost her home, and a third who lost his business and many personal possessions in a suspected arson.

Read their stories and see their advice for minimizing the loss from the devastating impact of a fire.

Practice and lives lost

As the newest veterinarian at Rowan Animal Clinic in Salisbury, N.C., Greg Lowe, DVM, was used to getting the late-night phone calls when the motion detector went off at the clinic. The alarm company would call Lowe's father, R.B. Lowe, DVM, who in turn called Lowe.

Usually, he would drive out to the clinic to find that a Houdini-like dog had escaped its kennel.

Right away, the call on Feb. 19 was different.

Instead of just the motion sensor going off, the fire alarm had gone off as well. Lowe was still seven miles away on the highway when his fears were confirmed.

"The closer I got, the more I realized what it was," Lowe, 28, recalls. "The closer I got, the faster I drove."

Lowe jumped out of his car and ran to the back of the building. He wanted desperately to get in.

There were a couple of police officers standing at the back door.

"I told them to break it, run a car into it," Lowe remembers.

Officers eventually were able to get in using a crow bar, but the smoke was overwhelming. No one could make it two feet inside the door.

Nine dogs were in the clinic, and all nine perished.

Officials speculate the fire began in the attic, but the cause of the fire remained under investigation as of press time.

"It's a life experience," Lowe says. "It's not one I would wish on anyone else."

The building, at which the senior Lowe has practiced for 35 years, is a total loss. About 20 employees are out of a job, at least for now.

Rowan Animal Clinic will re-open at the same location. For now, a temporary clinic is being set up at a local strip mall. Thanks to payroll insurance, employees still are able to be paid during this transition period.

"My dad practiced at that building site for 35 years," Lowe says. "He was devastated. Thirty-five years of his life were gone in one evening. But he did a large-animal call the Monday after the fire. He picked up and did the one thing he could do."

The outpouring from the community has made all the difference. Clients helped demolish the building. The Lowe family was placed on a food list. Donations began pouring in, and the clinic will use the money to build a park for the nine dogs that died. A local funeral home also donated services for the owners of the dogs that died.

Industry has stepped up to help get the clinic up and running again as well.

"All of the veterinary clinics in the area were very supportive, too, offering everything from facilities to sending teams of technicians the night of the fire to triage patients," Lowe says. "They definitely made some big offers to help."