Photo courtesy of Lorraine Hjalte , Calgary Herald
BTRC Prairie Committee member, Wendy Reekie, was no stranger to floods. Neither was her small town of High River, Alberta. But on Thursday, June 20th, 2013, both she and the town faced a flood unlike any other.
A memo had been issued the day before, indicating a high stream flow warning for the Highwood River, but had said nothing about the possibility of major OVERLAND flooding. Yet when Wendy awoke early that morning and saw the heavy rains outside, she checked her computer for a press release indicating an emergency situation. There was none.
At 7:20 all that changed. Her Human Resources Manager at work phoned, asking her to come to the office immediately to help answer calls in the Emergency Operations Centre. All Wendy could register was that single word: emergency.
“I was told I probably wouldn’t be able to cross the bridge into downtown,” she explained, “since the river was now close to overflowing its banks.”
She arrived at the office to face a scene of utter pandemonium, complete with every possible kind of emergency personnel, and the alarming news that the entire town of 13,000 inhabitants was being evacuated, quadrant by quadrant.
“I quickly called home to tell my husband, Bob, to leave the house and take Cash, our Boston Terrier, with him.”
No sooner had she hung up than they themselves were told to evacuate. Unbelievably, the Highwood River was rushing towards their building.
“As we left, I turned to look at my vehicle. The water was already up to its windows.”
A man in a one-ton truck stopped for the small group, saying he would get them to higher ground, and they climbed gratefully inside. The river was now rushing through the downtown core, swallowing everything in its path.
Three blocks later, the truck stalled, and Wendy and the others were forced to climb out of the windows and plunge into bone-chilling, chest-deep water. The stench of sewage was unmistakable: the lift stations had been going down one by one. Linking arms, they half-walked, half-swam to a higher place where the water was shallower.
It wasn’t long before a town dump truck stopped and they were told to scale the ladder and get in. As they huddled together, stunned and soaked, some cried, while others simply stared blankly at the scene before them.
“It was an eerie feeling,” Wendy said, “as we slowly motored through the water-filled streets, with the water lapping against the sides of this huge truck that was to be our saviour.”
They were left at the fire hall at the east end of town, then taken by school bus to an evacuation centre. There, they were given clean clothes and blankets, food and hot drinks, but more importantly, greeted warmly by the smiling faces of welcoming volunteers.
Wendy was soon offered a ride to a neighbouring town, where Bob and Cash were anxiously awaiting her.
“Our dear friends took us in for the night,” she said, “and the next day, we went to the home of another friend, where we stayed for nearly a month.”
But she soon had other concerns. That weekend, she and several other BTRC volunteers had been scheduled to join in the rescue of some puppy mill dogs. Now, because of the widespread flooding throughout the province, the rescue had been postponed until Wednesday.
And so, on Wednesday, despite the havoc in her own upturned life, Wendy met with Leona Abbott, the BTRC Coordinator for the Prairies, and took “five dear puppy mill dogs into my care for the night. The next day, they were vetted and two of our wonderful Alberta volunteers transported them to their waiting foster homes. It was a delight to help those precious, little dogs, a welcome distraction for me. It gave me something to focus on besides our current situation.
“When I joined BTRC three years ago, it was to help dogs like these in good times and bad. And so, despite what we were going through, these little innocents needed my help; they needed to be saved.”
Two weeks later, Wendy and Bob were allowed back into their house – but only to salvage whatever they could. They were stunned, but not surprised, by what they found. There was considerable damage to the place they’d once called home and four feet of water and sewage filling the basement.
As they began the arduous process of rebuilding their damaged home and disrupted lives, Wendy thought long and hard about what had happened.
“We were blessed,” she concluded, “because so many others were hit so much harder. Despite the loss of my vehicle and many of our possessions, they’re nothing in the big picture of life. Possessions come and go, but our lives were spared, along with the life of our precious Cash. And what a comfort he’s been to us through all this. Many pets weren’t as lucky; many didn’t survive.”
Thankfully, though, hundreds of family pets WERE extracted from their homes. Many were saved because neighbours or relatives had a spare key and were able to get to them when their owners couldn’t.
“This kind of unforeseen event highlights the need for every pet owner to act responsibly by licensing and microchipping their pets,” she urged. “It’s their only guarantee of being reunited with the animals they love, whether they’ve gone missing or been left stranded by a storm on a rooftop.
“Thinking back to those dear, rescued Bostons, I can’t help comparing ourselves to them. When they came into rescue, they were essentially ‘displaced,’ even though they’d come from a bad situation. They were taken to places of safety, into the love and comfort of temporary, foster homes. Their futures are bright now because they’ll be moving next to their permanent, adoptive homes.
“We too were ‘displaced.’ We too were taken to places of safety, into the love and comfort of our friends’ and families’ homes. Our future is brigher now because we’re rebuilding our own permanent home.”
It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. For Wendy, it was adversity. In a stroke of inspiration, she turned the word “FLOOD” into something positive, to describe what lies at the heart of every rescue group.
F.L.O.O.D. For Love Of Our Dogs.