In the flood zone

Nashville practice owner fights to rebuild following catastrophic flood
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Aug 01, 2010

BELLE MEADE, TENN. — The Sunday morning deluge continued unrelenting as two clinic staffers arrived at the Animal Hospital of West Nashville to check on boarded patients.

They had little idea then that the rains would trigger an event now called a 1,000-year flood.

But the waters were rising, fast.

When Dr. Jill Burgess first got the call from her employees that the flood had reached her newly renovated clinic, she rushed to help. By the time she arrived, she had to wade through flood waters just to reach the hospital.

"I had no way of knowing it was going to be anything like this," says Burgess, owner of the Animal Hospital of West Nashville. "I fought against the current, and my two assistants were there on the side of the building, and they were absolutely terrified."

More than $244 million has been approved by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help rebuild the Nashville area in the wake of the May floods, which FEMA says impacted more than 21,000 homes and almost 6,000 businesses. Animal Hospital of West Nashville was the only veterinary practice known to have been impacted by the floods, according to several veterinarians in the area.

The worst feeling, however, for Burgess came when she first arrived and saw the water level rising above the reception desk through the front door of her clinic.

"My heart just sank. I knew anybody inside bottom cages was already drowned at that point," Burgess says, adding there were 20 cats and dogs in the hospital that morning.

Unable to open the front door, Burgess climbed over a back wall into the clinic courtyard. The water was still high but without a current. Putting her adrenaline to use, she was able to force the back door open, causing water to rush out of the building.

Burgess and staffers reached the cat room first, where the water was halfway up the cages. Without carriers to put the cats in, she grabbed trash cans and anything else that would float to offer the animals protection from the flood waters. When checking the low-level bank of cages where smaller dogs and some clinic cats were kept, her worst fears were realized. There, she retrieved the bodies of six animals — two clinic cats, two cats being boarded by a clinic employee, and a young Yorkshire terrier boarded by some new clients and an older Shih Tzu owned by long-time clients of the hospital.

Burgess still chokes up when talking about the animals that were lost, but at the time there were still a lot more animals to get out of the clinic. She and her team headed back to the kennels to see how the larger dogs fared.