Trial by fire: coping with disaster

Trial by fire: coping with disaster

This veterinary practice survived a devastating blaze that killed 16 patients and destroyed the building.
Sep 01, 2008

EDITORS' NOTE: Veterinary consultant Jim Remillard wrote this article a few weeks after helping his long-time client Dr. Mark Dolginoff in Las Vegas recover from a fire that ruined his clinic, Paradise Pet Hospital.

Jim Remillard (Photos courtesy of Jim Remillard)
It was midnight Easter Sunday when Dr. Mark Dolginoff got the call. He had just drifted off to sleep after picking up his daughter at the Las Vegas airport. The caller told him that his practice, Paradise Pet Hospital, was engulfed in flames.

The fire

The practice owner in this article, Dr. Mark Dolginoff, owns Paradise Pet Hospital, a three-doctor practice in Las Vegas. He's rebuilding the hospital in its old location using the same foundation. (Photos courtesy of Jim Remillard)
Paradise Pet Hospital was open the Saturday before Easter. Thirteen pets were either boarded or hospitalized there overnight: Caesar, Carmac, Dojah, Jack, Jaguar, Manga, Martini, Pebbles, Rascal, Scottie, Shatzie, Spirit, and Willow. Paradise was also home to three clinic cats: Bart, Bacon, and Squishy. That night, when the fire got out of control, there was no containing it. The hospital burned completely, and every pet inside died.

Paradise hospital manager Joanne Light, LVT, says the firefighters did the best they could. With the flames raging and Light and other team members watching in horror, they broke the glass over each kennel to check for survivors. "I remember them looking in and shaking their heads," Light says. "It was heartbreak each time."

Clients showed their support on the fence outside (Photos courtesy of Jim Remillard)
The staff, with the help of a hospital administrator from a nearby emergency facility, was able to remove 13 of the 16 deceased pets that dark Easter morning. The firefighters parked their truck in front of the clinic to prevent reporters from shooting footage of the retrieval effort. And a representative with MWI Veterinary Supply transported the pets' remains in her own truck to the emergency hospital, Animal Emergency Center, for storage.

Light remembers the difficulty of the morning's duties. "The fire chief told one of the younger firemen to put each pet in a cadaver bag, bring it to the pickup, and have us identify the bodies," Light says. "The fireman told the chief he didn't think he could do it. The fire chief said, 'You can and you will. Those girls over there (the team members) need you to do this for them.'"

A new hope: Paradise Pet Hospital was gutted by fire (Photos courtesy of Jim Remillard)
And so the firefighters brought each animal out with its cage card for team members to make the ID. Firefighters even cut open a storage freezer and retrieved the body of a pet that had been euthanized Saturday morning but whose remains hadn't been returned to its owners. Only three pets' bodies were left in the building immediately after the fire. "I heard later that the firefighters had been trying to retrieve those last three bodies, but the roof started to collapse," Light says. "They apologized to me more times than I can recall."

On Tuesday morning, three fire investigators—at risk to themselves—went into the hospital and retrieved all three bodies that were still inside.