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An Outpouring of Compassion from Alberta Veterinarians and Technologists in Wake of Fort McMurray Fire

Published: May 17, 2016

The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) has been working with the Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force, Alberta SPCA and the Edmonton Humane Society over the past week to operate the Edmonton based Reception Centre for animals being evacuated from Fort McMurray.

Over the course of the past week, 1,124 animals were checked in and examined by a veterinarian. Approximately 10% of the animals required some form of veterinary care, either provided on site or at veterinary practices in the Edmonton area. 725 animals have been reunited with their owners and 169 animals are scheduled for reunion in the next 24 hours. The remainder will be housed in temporary care until reunited with their owners.

On May 4, the ABVMA put out a call to practices willing to provide veterinary medical care and/or boarding to residents evacuating the Fort McMurray wildfires. Nearly 175 practices stepped forward to provide medical care and/or boarding for pets of displaced owners. In addition, more than 100 technologists came forward to volunteer at the Edmonton Expo Centre, one of the initial evacuation centres in Edmonton. Additionally, nearly 80 veterinarians and technologists volunteered to assist on site in Fort McMurray if called upon to do so.

Meanwhile back in Fort McMurray the Fort McMurray veterinarians and veterinary technologists were back in their community as soon as they were given permission to do beginning May 6.

On May 9, volunteer efforts were required once again to work with partner organizations at the Edmonton based Reception Centre for evacuated pets. Over the following week, close to 150 veterinarians and RVTs contributed well over 1000 hours of volunteer time at the centre alone.

The ABVMA would like to take this opportunity to recognize the overwhelming response from the entire ABVMA community throughout this crisis. Thank you to all practices, veterinarians and technologists that volunteered or provided resources during this disaster response. This truly highlights the selfless and dedicated members of the veterinary profession in Alberta.

See the story on CTV (Skip to 11:39)
See the story on CBC (Skip to 3:28)
See the story on Global (Skip to 5:49)


Thank you ABVMA Volunteers!


The Need

Volunteer veterinary teams take in all species of rescued animals.The Fort McMurray fires devastated the community, but it’s in times like these that Albertans, linked by our common heritage, show a profound sense of community. It isn’t just local, it extends to people throughout the province. The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association’s (ABVMA) members have stepped up in this time of need to provide essential services to Fort McMurray’s animals, and pet owners. The ABVMA is moved by their members’ commitment to the cause of animal welfare. In collaboration with the Alberta SPCA, the Edmonton Humane Society, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the City of Edmonton, and the Alberta Spay and Neuter Task Force, the ABVMA and its members have been working tirelessly to treat and care for pets who have been separated from their families, as the effort to reunite them continues.

The Plan

Volunteer veterinary health teams work together to ensure accurate records are kept for more than 1000 animals taken in.Since the Slave Lake fire, the ABVMA has worked closely with the City of Edmonton on refining emergency response plans, to ensure the safe evacuation of pets in times of crisis. These efforts informed the efficient and effective crisis response to the Fort McMurray fire. Ensuring the health and welfare of these animals was the ABVMA’s  first priority and its primary role in the collective effort. While the organizations we worked with focused on collecting animals and reuniting them with their families, ABVMA volunteers managed triage, intake, and veterinary care. Within days, this operation had saved nearly a thousand animal lives and reunited hundreds of pets with their families. Given the scope of the emergency response and the mere hours in which it was coordinated, the situation would have been chaotic if not for the compassion and commitment of our team and other amazing organizations that contributed to the effort.

The plan included:

  • Veterinary triage and care on site in Fort McMurray
  • Veterinary technologists’ oversight of animals at the Expo Centre Northlands Reception Centre
  • Veterinary triage and care at the Edmonton Animal Reunification Centre

The Process

Veterinary health teams keeping accurate intake and medical records

Hundreds of cats, dogs, rabbits, reptiles, birds, and other species received veterinary examinations on arrival. Each animal was then moved to species-specific holding areas, where they received food and attention from staff and volunteers, and any additional treatment, if necessary. If the initial examination revealed concern, the animal would either receive treatment on-site or be transported to an ABVMA member’s clinic for care. When the ABVMA put out the word to our members that Fort McMurray’s animals were in need of help, the response was overwhelming. ABVMA members selflessly contributed their time and expertise, with no expectation of reward; this is a humbling testament to their dedication to animal welfare. ABVMA members knew that every animal in the facility was a beloved member of someone’s family, and this reality inspired them to keep on giving.

The Facility

The facility’s walls were lined with supplies and extra kennels. Volunteers cycled from supply areas to holding areas to the reception area to examination rooms day and night. Every animal had its own kennel, each with listed mealtimes and, in many cases, required treatments. Registered veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and volunteers doted over the animals, making sure they received the care they needed until their families arrived for heart-warming reunions.

The Reason

Volunteers take the opportunity to rest whenever and wherever they can.

When an animal’s owner arrived they were often brought to tears at the sight of their pet. Volunteers shared those tears as they watched a cat or dog leap into the arms of its owner, reunited at last. And then the volunteers returned to work, looking after all of the other animals awaiting their reunions.

The Heroes

Our members’ professionalism, expertise, and compassion for animal welfare was an unquestionable asset to this emergency response. For that reason, we offer our humble gratitude to our members and all of the volunteers who have helped. One of our members, Dr. Richard Starke, expresses this sentiment beautifully and with touching honesty in the video below.


Comments from the Capital

Vermillion -Lloydminster MLA and ABVMA member, Dr. Richard Starke, acknowledges the outpouring of compassion by veterinarians and technologists in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

"I was struck, but not surprised by the selfless dedication of my Alberta Veterinary Medical Association colleagues, veterinarians and animal health technologists, some who have been there, on duty for days with only a few hours sleep... I've always been proud to be a veterinarian, but never more so than yesterday." -Dr. Richard Starke, DVM



Thank you ABVMA Volunteers!



joyous reunion for Fort McMurray residents and their pets