Memorial to honor dogs that perished in veterinary practice fire

Veterinarian recalls chaos, sadness following devastation

February 29, 2012 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Photos courtesy of Dr. Greg Lowe
Nine fire departments responded on Feb. 19 to the early morning fire that destroyed Rowan Animal Clinic and the dogs inside of it. Owner Dr. R.B. Lowe had operated the four-doctor practice near Salisbury, N.C., for more than 30 years.
Dr. Greg Lowe helped carry out the bodies of nine dogs that likely succumbed to smoke inhalation when his father’s veterinary practice near Salisbury, N.C., burned on Feb. 19.

He broke the news to heartbroken owners after flames that started in the attic of the 5,700-square-foot mixed animal practice took the lives of the dogs inside. Some were boarding, others were staying overnight as patients.

Lowe saw the smoke rising 10 to 15 miles in the distance while rushing to the scene at Rowan Animal Clinic. “I didn’t want to believe it was coming from our building.”

The chaos of the dark morning hours after the practice’s fire and security alarms sounded at 1:36 a.m. are now a blur to Lowe, though he vividly recalls the blank stare of his father, Dr. R.B. Lowe, who started the practice 35 years ago.

The senior Lowe was not reached by the VIN News Service.

“He wasn’t in this world,” Lowe said of his father. “He kept saying, ‘The dogs cannot burn. We have to have something to give back to my clients.”

At the scene, the younger Lowe tried to get a respirator in an attempt to save the dogs, but the fire department nixed that idea. They heard no barking, hinting that the animals inside had already perished. The building, filled with smoke, was too unstable for even firefighters to enter.

“I was told that the smoke likely got to the dogs fairly quickly,” Lowe said.

Lowe, one of four veterinarians who works at the practice, considers that to be a blessing, as well as the fact that there were only nine dogs in the building. On busy days, there could be close to 40 animals in the clinic. “It’s hard to see anything good when nine dogs die, but this has to be it.”

Another silver lining has been the support that’s poured in from community members. In two days, area farmers had what remained of the practice leveled and the debris hauled away. The phones haven’t stopped ringing. There are plans to rebuild, but the Lowe family won’t accept monetary donations to get it going.

Instead, the family hopes to build a dog park to honor the deceased animals and has created The Precious Nine Memorial Fund to help pay for it. Donations can be made to the fund at any Wells Fargo branch or mailed to Wells Fargo at 866 Jake Alexander Blvd. West, Salisbury, N.C. 28147.

News of the devastation reached the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession where Greg Lowe is a member. Some expressed their condolences in a message board discussion; others characterized clinic fires as their “worst nightmare.”

For now, it seems that the four veterinarians on staff and 20 or so other practice employees are working to forge ahead. Earlier this week, R.B. Lowe leased an empty ophthalmology office about five miles away as a temporary home for the practice. Farm calls resumed the Monday after the fire, and minor procedures such as suture removals and blood glucose testing are being performed in a parking lot adjacent to where the burned building once stood.

“What are you going to do, quit? I don’t know anything else,” Lowe said of the veterinarians' resolve to rebuild. “Veterinary medicine — this is who my father is.”

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