Practices at forefront of Iowa flood recovery

Randy Ackman, DVM, knew he’d have his hands full. The flood waters hadn’t even hit and he already had to scramble to find a place to shelter 120 animals.

“We knew the Cedar Rapids animal shelter would be under water, so we had to evacuate them first,” says Ackman, who is coordinating animal rescue efforts in that flood-ravaged Iowa town of 130,000 people.

Fortunately, Kirkwood Community College, where Ackman trains veterinary technicians, stood on high ground.

“We’re able to house the animals in our classrooms, beef barn and equestrian center,” he says. “At last count, we’re taking care of 630 pets.”

Ackman’s patients are 70 percent cats, 30 percent dogs, one horse, a few birds and rats, and, irony of ironies, one fish.

“It’s a cichlid from a fish tank in someone’s living room,” he explains. “It was brought in by a rescue team in a Coleman cooler.”

The Humane Society of the United States has played a major role in the effort. Their semi truck with cages is dispatched to a forward point where rescuers in boats bring in the animals.

“We don’t worry too much about lepto at this point,” Ackman says. “Once we get them, our main focus is to keep the animals healthy. For some, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen a veterinarian. Each one is examined and given Frontline or Revolution to prevent fleas and ticks. We prescribe and initiate drugs and vaccinate all animals at no cost to the pet owner.

“We’re able to do this because of the generosity of companies such as Pfizer, Schering-Plough, Fort Dodge, Novartis, Merial, Midwest Veterinary Supply, Hills, Purina, PetsMart and many so others.”

But the real heroes have been the veterinarians in the Cedar Rapids community, he says.

“They’ve been tremendous. I’ve had 33 different vets here over the past five days. Some are working double shifts. Their first question usually is, ‘When do you need me?’” 

Ackman’s voice cracks when he reflects on events of the past week.

“We get people who come in here late at night. They’ve lost everything. Everything. It’s very emotional for them. The only thing they have is their pets and they’re worried about losing them, too.

“In times like this, everyone talks about a ‘hundred year flood’,” he says. “Well, our last so-called hundred year flood was in 1993. That’s when the Cedar River crested just over 19 feet. Last week, it crested at 32 feet.”

Yet, despite the high water, Ackman and his team soldier on, treating animals, encouraging volunteers and comforting pet owners.

Operating on only four hours of sleep each night, he’s somehow managed to keep his sense of humor.

How did he get the assigned the role of rescue coordinator?

“Apparently I didn’t take vacation at the right time,” he says with a smile.