The heart of this story lies in the heart of every person who’s ever loved an animal.
Oh yes, it’s about the 1,000-year flood and what it did to destroy Four Paws Animal Clinic in Forest Acres, but when you dig through the mud and mess of earlier this month, you’ll discover what that formidable bond between human being and critter can do.
A lot. A whole lot.
But first, the flood.
The clinic was located a stone’s throw from Gills Creek, just off Forest Drive, behind a fabric store. Flood City, as it turned out.
That Friday afternoon, heavy rains were forecast for the weekend. Veterinarian and Four Paws co-owner Tracy Wales said all pets were sent home and the clinic was prepared for “some water.”
“We lifted up all our lift tables and basically moved anything up from the floor about two feet, thinking we were probably going to get some water … I was worried that we were going to have to replace some floors. Then we put sandbags outside the doors and we went home.
“On Saturday morning, it was just sort of misting. We kind of laughed at the weatherman. Wrong again.
“Then, when my husband, Eddie, and I woke up Sunday morning, we turned on the television. I thought, ‘Oh my God, the clinic is drowning.’ We just knew it was under water.”
Which it was.
Flood waters rose 11 feet – stopping just 6 inches below the clinic’s roofline.
“We got in there on Thursday,” Wales said, “and it was mass destruction. There was debris, mud. The smell was unbelievable. We found medication bottles in the ceiling. We were all kind of speechless. I think we were all just thinking – thinking we’ve got a lot of work to do. We really didn’t talk; we just started shoveling.”
All sorts of folks turned up to help as the soggy days went by, including Maribeth Word.
I met Word earlier this week. I asked her why she got so involved in the clinic’s restoration. Word’s face crumpled. Tears fell.
“It involves family,” she tried to explain.
I hated to push. “Family?”
“She came over. She came over and helped me with Ruby. Ruby was dying.”
“She” is veterinarian Nori Warren, the other co-owner of Four Paws. Ruby was Word’s beloved Boykin Spaniel which, two years ago, was in the last difficult throes of life at Word’s home.
“I called Dr. Warren and she came over and helped me. She sat there with me.”
Word wiped away her tears.
“The people at Four Paws are just real special to me,” Word said. “They take of your family.”
And so I suppose it is no surprise that after the flood, a lot of folks took care of Four Paws.
F3, a men’s fitness and fellowship group, threw its weight behind the initial clean-up of the Forest Drive facility. Numerous veterinary clinics in the Columbia area helped Four Paws clients with their pets while the clinic was closed. A Columbia businessman offered up a Devine Street building for the clinic to move into. The city of Columbia made sure Four Paws had all the permits it needed.
And it’s the people like Word – folks who love their pets and prevail upon Four Paws for their care – who’ve pulled the clinic out of the muck and put it back on the map – literally, a block or two up from Five Points.
Clients, and friends and family of clients, have raised more than $50,000 for the clinic. They have washed thousands of stainless steel medical instruments recovered from the mud. They have supplied the clinic with all kinds of necessary items – towels and blankets, chairs and magazines for the waiting room. They have painted, they have swept, they have cleaned bathrooms.
“They have given so much and we are just so thankful,” Wales said. “The human/animal bond is stronger than most human/human bonds and people are so grateful for the care their pets get.”
I asked Wales what she would be thinking on Friday, when the clinic reopened.
“Chaos. We used to have 10 computers. Now we have one. It will be emotional too, and maybe at the end of the day, we will all be able to reflect upon it. Celebrate the fact that we made it.”
And reflect upon that formidable bond between human being and critter.
And celebrate what it can do.
Salley McAden McInerney is a local writer. Her novel, Journey Proud, is based upon growing up in Columbia in the early 1960s. She may be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.